For the last several months those of us laboring in higher education, have, for once, really been laboring. Most of the time it is committee meetings, reports, presentations, teaching, enjoying conversation with students, researching, etc. One couldn’t ask for a better life (except the committee meetings, but that is a topic for another time). This year it has been just tough work.
We have seen public funding for scholarships float away, budgets evaporate, students and families decide that they simply can’t take the risk of beginning or continuing. We’ve been cutting budgets, finding more funding for financial aid for student’s in need, listening to students, parents and families to see how we can adjust to help as many student begin as possible. We’ve been forced to agonize over cutting staffing levels, say good bye to friends, and reorganize to serve students even better than we have in the past with fewer resources.
The press hasn’t helped. They are more than willing to print stories about troubles, less so about successes. We’ve had our share. Other universities are cutting classes and and limiting enrollments due to state budget cuts. We have heard that people think we must also be cutting back on courses and limiting enrollments. We aren’t, but the press isn’t all that interested. I know, whining will get me nowhere.
Usually December-February is a slightly down period for us, time for planning, research, a little writing, and to work on classes and with students. Not this year. We could use some good news.
Finally it seems we are getting some. California has passed a budget for next year (eight months earlier in the cycle than last year). Scholarship funding for students has been preserved. It seems the legislators remembered that an educated populace is more productive (and pays more taxes) than one without college training. The federal government raised the Pell Grant by $500 for next year, helping to ease the cost for lower income families.
At Fresno Pacific we were able to rework our financial aid programs to raise our academic and need based scholarships for incoming students. The President’s scholarship (min. 3.6 GPA and 1150 SAT for incoming freshman) is now $10,000. And we were able to lower some of our housing costs. Many incoming students this year will see costs drop compared to last year. It has been a labor to get here, but we seem to be coming through it.
We also developed a “4-year Graduation Guarantee” and have announced it to students and parents. For those students who do their part (take the classes their advisor recommends, pass the classes, take a full load each semester–more details at www.fresno.edu) we will offer the courses, advising, etc. they need to graduate in four years, or supply the remaining courses in the one or two semesters after their four years free of tuition. It was a no-brainer. We already have the highest four year graduation rate in the Valley. We simply made it tangible. KMJ 580 did a report on it just this week–grateful for the good press.
The word, we think, is getting out that students can plan to finish their degrees on time, that we have room for students, that we are accepting applications, that financial aid is even avialble than in the past, that we have new centers opening in Visalia and Bakersfield (classes start in the new center in Bakersfield this evening), that students are succeeding, getting jobs, moving up in their careers, entering high-powered graduate schools, and doing all of the things that successful students ought to be able to do. We expect to continue to see students move into professions, serve in their communities and churches. We have the privilege of seeing them become more faithful, knowledgable and dedicated to serving others (our motto–Faithfulness, Wisdom, Service).
Its a rare privilege and more than worth the labor. Even more remarkable–donors have been generous, even as their personal holding decline. Let’s pray that the economy strengthens, that we remember what’s really valuable and for the energy to keep moving forward. Back to work…