Deep cuts loom for low-income student programs

Zac Estrada and Zac Estrada

California’s budget crisis has continued into the new year and state heads are looking to cut funding for community colleges, including programs for low-income students.

Santa Barbara City College officials are meeting continuously to mull different plans should Sacramento leaders vote to slice funding for the Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, Disabled Student Programs and Services and other categorical fund services like counseling. This means that students could be looking at longer lines and fewer classes.

If Governor Schwarzenegger’s plan passes, it will be another blow to the college’s roughly 20,000 students. California has already cut the amount of money each community college receives per student.

Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, the program that benefits students who come from low-income households, could be subjected to a $130,000 cut in funding in Santa Barbara. Marsha Wright, the program’s director at the college, says she may have to reduce the number of students served. A third of the people who benefit from Extended Opportunity Programs and Services may not be allowed to continue with the program. Wright is doing what she can to stop that from happening.

“If the college district is not able to backfill our budget shortfall like last year we will have to make these cuts,” Wright said. She said EOPS already had a $121,179 reduction in funding for the 2009-2010 year. Extended Opportunity Programs and Services has already had to take steps in the wake of financial crises in nearly every sector. Students in the program, who typically come from a family of four with an income of less than $31,800 per year, no longer get the complete cost of books covered. Wright said the students who do get between $200 and $300 for books are looked at closely, based on GPA and the number of units completed.

Still, Wright isn’t sure how her program, one of the largest of its kind among the state’s colleges, will accommodate students if she has to make deep cuts.

“It’s unfair that in times like these the working poor have to take such a big hit,” she said. “It’s really hitting these students hard.”

Wright said her students might also be impacted by the proposed suspension of new competitive Cal Grant awards. That may weigh more heavily on those applying for financial aid from the college’s foundation, which saw a large increase in applicants last year.

Wright said she’s grateful for the funding the foundation has given the EOPS program already and knows the program will not be able to expect any more than what has already been allocated.

She added that while her staffing has not been greatly diminished this year, student workers had to be hired using federal work-study funds.

Student Senate Vice President Atty Garfinkel spoke in front of the college’s Board of Trustees last Thursday and hoped they would stand behind students who are fighting to prevent cuts in important services, naming EOPS in particular. She urged the board to support students who will be protesting in Sacramento later in the spring.