Sunday, August 14, 2016

The End of Higher Education as We Know It: A Call to Action

      I have written only a little bit about my college experience, but I’m sure that many of you at least know that I attend UC Santa Cruz. I’m now in my senior year of college, and while I have learned quite a few things, some of which I hope to share in another upcoming post, the biggest lesson I will take away from my years in higher education is how broken the system is. My reason for writing this post is simple, as is my call for action. Colleges, community colleges, all forms of higher education, need to be fixed. WE NEED ACTIVISTS. 
     Although I am writing from the point of view of someone who spent all four years at a UC, a system which is notorious for corruption (and in fact, currently being audited, yay!), I believe that my assessment and my ask are appropriate for all higher education in this country. There are a myriad of resources out there for anyone who wants to learn about the depth of the issue with higher education in the U.S., but here’s the basic gist: higher education has become an industry. Students are viewed as customers, business opportunities, cash cows. What’s more, in many situations, students’ rights are disrespected and tuition continues to be upped because the thought of trying to enter the workforce today without a college degree is even more terrifying than having thousands of dollars in student loan debt at the time of graduation. 
     The demand for a degree is high enough that colleges get away with a myriad of abuses on their students, tuition costs being one among many. You may have also heard about or experienced some of these treats: increasing class sizes (I’ve had classes where people had to sit on the floors of lecture halls because there were no seats left), no classes with actual professors (colleges these days hire lecturers, who get paid way less and have way fewer rights, but do have the same level of credentials), not being able to get into the classes you need, tiny dorm rooms, cramped libraries, packed buses, you name it. The resources offered to students are often barely enough to feed the needs of students. Janet Napolitano, head of the UC system, recently ordered the UC system to expand. As colleges go on packing in more students, they also neglect to provide more resources. In the case of UCSC, some are being cut back. Our buses were recently cut down, and many single-size rooms are being turned into doubles without being expanded. 
      This phenomenon is not unique to UCs. Just lookie here. Evidently, schools all over the country, and the people that control them, are looking to run for-profit operations, and the situation is compounded by cuts in federal and state funding to public colleges. The unfortunate thing about this is that it severely limits the lives of our young people. 
       How many people are not able to go to college because of the cost? How many people are burdened with debt for years after they graduate? Without as many college-educated individuals, society will not function the same way. Often, the U.S. competes with other countries to have an educated population. We cannot compete, nor can we function, without allowing our young people access to higher education. Burdening our young people with debt negatively affects our economy and similarly limits the potentials of our society. We need affordable higher education in this country. We need students’ rights to be respected by academic officials. So again, I say, WE NEED ACTIVISTS. 

      We need people who will stand up for what they deserve, for what their children deserve, for what society and the future of the U.S. deserve. We need people who are brave. Have you seen what colleges have done to student activists? UC Davis recently attempted to have this video of campus police pepper-spraying peaceful student activists protesting tuition hikes removed from the internet (no, UC Davis, you will never live that down, because you cannot treat students that way). UC Santa Cruz suspended six students while completely denying them of their judicial rights of due process after they blocked the Highway 17 while protesting tuition hikes. No, being an activist is not safe or easy, although there is strength and safety in numbers. In 2014, UCSC staged an occupation of a campus building and no arrests were made, because hundreds of students participated. We need activists, as many as we can gather. Instead of the Highway Six, we need the Highway 600, or 6,000. I wrote last year about how student activism is on the rise. Join the swell, we need you! 
      Not only that, but we also need parents who are willing to stand up and demand a better education for their children. There are many parents out there, like my own, who have the resources to send their children to college, and therefore have the resources and education to, in some way, make a demand from the system. Whether that’s contacting school administrators, getting media coverage of the issue, leveraging their position in society to draw attention to the problem, or something else, parents are important and powerful allies. They know what’s going on, and most likely, they understand its wrong. My father often complains that the only emails he ever gets from the UC system are emails asking for money. What if, instead of complaining, my father was able to act on his discontent with the higher education system? Parents have the power to cause a tidal wave of change. 
       Beyond them, concerned citizens who understand that we need college grads to do the work of today and tomorrow are also important. Education is a public good that contributes to the health of society. Anyone who understands that can and should do something about the crisis of higher education we are experiencing now. WE NEED ACTIVISTS. 
      We need visionaries. People who can create a new kind of university, one that serves the needs of individuals and society in a fair and affordable way. A university whose primary goal is providing a high quality education and is run like a school, not a business. The reason this piece is titled “The End of Higher Education as We Know It” is simply because that’s what I am calling for. I am asking for a push for a new and better model of higher education, and I am asking you and everyone around you to help imagine it and help build it. What functions does a college need to perform? What is the best way for that to be done? I like to imagine a university that is run completely by students. Imagine it: a governing board of elected officials, who are in charge of all matters of the university. They do not get paid, but receive class credit. Students hire and fire professors, make decisions on tuition costs and resource cuts or expansions, and just generally run the show. How cool would that be? 
       I am asking you to imagine an alternative that you desire, and then demand it and help to create it. We need to move beyond simply asking. We can protest, but we can also create. How can we bring into being a better-run university out of what we have now?
      My proposals are tentative fantasies, but what I emphasize is that we need change. We need it bad. And we need the creative visionary activist beauty from each soul to make it happen. We all have something to contribute the end of higher education as we know it, including you. 


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