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Disturbing Erosion of California Dream : * Budget Crisis Is Changing Idea That All Who Want a College Education Can Get One

Until very recently, UC Irvine was one of a few University of California campuses that accepted virtually all student transfers. But this year’s budget crunch has changed that, and now UCI cannot accommodate about 4,000 students wanting to transfer. Many had been operating under the assumption that if they completed their first two years at a local community college with a minimum grade of C-plus, they would be certain of transferring to the Irvine campus.

And at San Diego State University, President Tom Day has been arguing for some time for a cap on enrollment, as UC campuses do. Such a cap would allow the university to raise entrance requirements and reject otherwise qualified applicants. If caps were to become more common, it would eventually mean a shift in philosophy, and that would change the notion of who automatically gets into college and put further emphasis on community college educations.

The fiscal crisis which is behind all this turmoil, and which is so evident at state institutions of learning in our own area, is changing some very basic assumptions about public higher education.

The idea that all who want to can go to college is no longer necessarily a given. This constitutes a disturbing erosion of the California dream. Ultimately, it will put more pressure on students, faculty, parents and employers.

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Unfortunately, it is difficult to plan a long-range strategy for coping when it is not clear what lies ahead on the budgetary horizon. But belt tightening and adapting to changes, already being done on these campuses, are the great challenge of the new academic year. A sign of the pressure is evident at SDSU, for example, where five years to graduate has been the norm for several years. Now, with the fiscal crunch, even five years is starting to look optimistic.

At UCI, it used to be that students with 56 units completed, transferring as juniors, needed only a grade-point average of 2.4, or C-plus. In December, UCI raised that minimum to 3.0, or a B average. Understandably, there is some deep disappointment, and even some apprehension, about what the change means for community colleges.

In the past, these state institutions of higher education have held out special promise. They will continue to do that, of course, but this autumn especially, something seems to have eroded in the equation that has made California special. The new academic year begins, but not on an entirely auspicious note.


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