The College Conversation: Budget cuts could change your options

California's winter is sure to be a cold one for colleges.

On the chopping block is $1.4 billion in cuts for public colleges. Out of those cuts, $400 million will be cut from our state's community college system. Both the University of California and Cal State University stand to be hit with $500 million in cuts, with tuition increases at UC and CSU campuses already approved.

The way the budget proposal is currently laid out, there is no real funding for growth at any public community college or university. The Cal State system originally planned to grow its numbers. Not anymore. The UC system was hoping to keep enrollment numbers steady. Not going to happen. Prior to the budget proposal, UC Berkeley planned to lay off 150 staff members. Many UC campuses have already decreased their athletic programs.

At the university level, the trickle effect will inevitably lead to an even larger percentage of high school graduates headed to community colleges — a system already exploding from over-enrollment.

So, what should you really be looking for when examining the best options for your teen to continue his or her higher education?:


Five-year graduation rates

Yes, I did write "five." I don't even use the term "four-year colleges" anymore. The National Center of Education Statistics hosts a site named College Navigator — use it as you help your child determine "good fits." After all, the goal is not to "get in" but to get out.


The quality of academic advising

All colleges offer some sort of academic advising, but is it required and easily accessible for college freshmen? The advising at our private universities is outstanding. There's little guesswork as faculty members guide students towards specific majors and facilitate the advising process.

Plenty of students enter college undecided as to what they want to study — so, how will the colleges your child is interested in take responsibility for helping your child make up his mind? And what if he changes it? Is it easy to change majors? Or will the student be dealing with red tape and bureaucracy? Public universities are not known to be "hand-holders." Diligent students seek out the career center. Others have no idea where it's even located.

Community colleges have long been considered a great place for students in limbo — who don't know what they want to do in life. Yet, budget cuts mean less elective choices since the focus must be on the core classes necessary to help students transfer sooner than later.


Identify issues at colleges that interest you

Are classes being cancelled unexpectedly? Are introductory courses filled to the rim? Are professors being laid off? Salaries frozen? Identify the "happiness factor" of students and faculty members.

Don't be fooled into thinking that there is a place for all Californian students in our public universities. I couldn't believe it when I learned that Cal State Long Beach had a lower admission rate last year than some of the Ivies. All California public universities are selective since none offer admission to 100% of applicants.

No matter what, to make the best higher education decisions, families must take a front seat in their quest for college admissions knowledge.

It's going to be a bitter cold season in California as we wait for the state to make its budgetary decisions ... and I'll be sure to keep you posted.

LISA McLAUGHLIN is the founder and executive director of EDvantage Consulting Inc., an independent college admission counseling firm in South Orange County. Her column runs Sundays. Please send college admissions questions to

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