Bad economy gets students fired-up

By Brook Stallings.
The Associated Student Government (ASG) hosted two “Budget Cut Student Forums” this week to explain how Washington State’s projected $7 billion deficit will likely affect BCC students. ASG president Amanda Alva gave suggestions to students on how to plan ahead to lessen impact on school plans and on political action students can take. Around 150 students attended one of the two events, which were held on Wednesday and Thursday in room N 201. At each forum, Alva’s half-hour long presentation was followed by a question and answer session. Each forum emphasized self-education, being proactive, and personal involvement in student lobbying efforts. Gov. Gregoire’s original budget plan was drawn up when the predicted state deficit was $5.6 billion. BCC was expected to take cuts of 1.5 percent in 2010 and 2011. When added to the 4.1 percent budget cuts in 2009, the cuts total over $2.5 million through fiscal year 2011. Now, the state’s deficit is expected to swell to $7 billion in the 2009-2011 budget cycle. The ASG is now anticipating 5 percent cuts in state funding for BCC in 2010 and 2011. This would add up to a loss to BCC of over $5.1 million in state funding through 2011. Half of BCC’s budget goes to instruction, said Alva. This makes instruction the most attractive place to cut expenses. Alva reported that BCC plans to address the loss of state funds by becoming more efficient. Sections of classes will likely be cut, classes will be bigger, and wait-lists will be longer. “Efficient does not mean effective,” Alva said. The ASG will be advocating for students with BCC’s administration, working to keep class sizes reasonable. Alva said as students, we need to plan “to be on the right track, to get our degree, and then to get out and get in the workforce.” Students should inform themselves and use what they learn to adapt their plans, she advised. One way to make sure that your classes are more likely to be kept is to register early. “Protect the sections,” said Alva. BCC will try to follow student demand, keeping class sections that are full and cancelling empty ones, Alva said. Registering for class early will help keep more sections open. Students can get financial help to register early through financial aid, scholarships, or BCC’s tuition pre-payment plan known as STEPP. The Higher Education Coordinating Board estimates the minimum expenses for a full-time BCC student living alone to be $14,749 a year. This includes tuition, books, room and board, and other necessary expenses. At the University of Washington, students living away from home should expect to pay $19,138 a year. In an interview after the second forum, Theresa McClane Jaswal from the Center for Career Connections and the Women’s Center said that there are still unclaimed scholarships and grants. Many of these are for women. She said that the centers can help students get this money. Students need to move beyond being informed to becoming involved, Alva said. Students can write or email state legislators. Also, they can help the ASG by volunteering to work in student government. The ASG Legislative Committee has one paid and two volunteer positions open. Alva wants students to send a simple message to state legislators. “Don’t balance the budget on our backs,” she said. Tuition increases are a particular concern. Gov. Gregoire’s fall budget proposal limited tuition increases to 5 percent a year. Now, some legislators are asking for a 10 percent increase, Alva said. February 16th is a lobby day in Olympia, organized by the Washington Student Lobby (WSL). The ASG wants BCC students’ voices to be heard at the event emphasizing BCC student issues. ASG Legislative Committee member Brianne Wood was at the forum, and said that the ASG priority in Olympia is to protect the 5 percent tuition increase cap. Wood emphasized that political action can make a big impact in Olympia. “When you bombard senators and representatives in their office with phone calls, they start to freak out,” she said. Wood attributed the passage of three student supported education bills last year to a phone campaign by WSL. Eric Swier is studying business at BCC, and wants to transfer to WSU and study communication and marketing. He liked the forum, and said it explained things he would not have known otherwise. A tuition increase might force him to work more hours and take fewer credits. “That could push me back another year,” he said. Stephanee Smith just received her Associate degree and wants to transfer to the University of Washington. She is a single parent, and wants to become a physician’s assistant. Asked what she thought of the forum, she said “It scares me. I’ve just worked so hard to this point… I’ve come a long way. I don’t want to jeopardize my future for myself and my son.” If she can’t go to the university, she said, “I don’t know what I would do. I’d have to look at some of the private colleges… I’d have to take out more student loans.”