Budget Uncertainty Puts Collegiate Hopes on the Line

Posted on December 8, 2010

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The coffee table is covered with physics and calculus textbooks, crumpled sheets of binder paper, mechanical pencils in various states of operation, a TI 84 graphing calculator.  What appears to be a dingy mop topped with a dingy brown beanie hunches over a notebook, scribbling furiously.

The call for dinner comes from the kitchen, and Will Hamann looks up, peering out from his shaggy dark blond hair. Although it is early in the season, the lower half of his face is sunburned into a pattern universally recognizable among avid skiers as a “goggle-tan.” He earned his tan by hitting the slopes six days during his weeklong Thanksgiving break.

Like many 17-year-olds, Hamann splits his time between school, his friends, and his hobbies, which, for him, involve skiing and building robots in his school Robotics Club.

Like many high school seniors, his sights are set on next year, when he’ll be going to college. His mother has led him around the western United States on a parade of campus tours and presented him with mountains of applications and scholarship essays.

Unfortunately for Hamann and millions of California students like him, an education in California is getting increasingly expensive. California continues to face economic woes, leaving state colleges like Humboldt State University scrambling for funding.  “The newly passed state budget,” writes HSU President Rollin Richmond, “has left the next governor and legislature a deficit of billions of dollars.”

At the end of last year, Richmond announced a fee increase for students, saying “I regret having to increase the cost of attending Humboldt State University for our students.”

Although things look bleak, they are an improvement on previous years’ deficit. The school no longer faces furloughs, and the California State University system is enjoying an increase in funding for the first time since 2007.

Richmond warns against celebrating too soon, however, saying, “California’s economy is still struggling, with only limited signs that a modest recovery is underway.” “And next year,” he states “it is very unlikely that we will receive significant federal assistance as we have over the last two years.”

This uncertainty may factor in for those students currently deciding where they will go to college. “I don’t really want to go to any schools in California,” says Hamann, although he adds, “it’s not their academic credentials that I doubt.” “Schools in California seem to be more expensive,” and, “they also seem to be in worse condition.” Hamann has toured six different colleges stretched across California, Nevada, Utah, and Montana. His first choice is Montana State University.

For Hamann, and many high school seniors, picking out a college can be, not only overwhelming, but a little frightening. Hamann says that he “worries deeply” about paying for college, and is counting on getting financial aid to be able to go to school. Without that financial help, he won’t be able to go to college, and his dreams of becoming an engineer will drift out of reach.

“Cost plays an enormous role in my decision,” he says.

Getting ready to head off to college is an emotionally complicated process. Hamann has “mixed feelings” about leaving his home and friends and starting a new life in college. Like many high school seniors, he is standing on the precipice, getting ready to take the leap into the unknown, but still holding on to his small hometown for support and strength.

He says he is “excited about sleeping in a different bed every night, excited for late night homework sessions and not having to worry about waking my parents when I go to bed.”  This will sound familiar to a lot of us who left for college, although for Hamann’s generation, the sadness, excitement and fear of striding toward adulthood is marred by financial concerns.

“It is important that we remain cautious,” says Richmond.

But for Hamann and the kids like him, now is the time to abandon caution and explore the uncertain. “I am emotionally torn between the life of a child and the life of an adult,” he says. Aren’t we all.

Posted in: School Papers