Potential S&A budget cuts raise equity concerns

The S&A (Services and Activities) budget is getting closer to the deadline for finalization for the 2020-2021 year. With this comes the potential for many student programs that rely on S&A funds and are set for prospective financial cutbacks to come to an end. But the implications of a lack of funding go far beyond what programs are available to participate in on campus, and in a bigger picture, affect the ability of students to succeed in their careers post-undergrad.

A Gallup poll from 2015 identified the “big six” experiences that students have in college which prepare them for life preparedness after their undergraduate completion. These categories are split into two areas: faculty support and high impact practices. The faculty category discusses the importance of faculty getting students excited about learning, caring about students, and providing encouragement. High impact practices, also known as activities that promote deep learning and student engagement, cover concepts such as working on a project that took longer than a semester to complete, internships and overall involvement in student extracurriculars. Of all the 30,000 graduates surveyed, Gallup reported only three percent of college graduates having all six experiences. Translated to students at Bellevue College, this number could be even less upon graduation with the loss of such transformative experiences offered by student programs.

The Watchdog spoke to Michael Reese, a Career Specialist with the RISE Learning Institute as well as Professor Tim Jones, the advisor to the Model United Nations and Civil Rights Pilgrimage Program, some of the programs which have been scheduled to receive no funds from S&A in the upcoming 2020-2021 year.

Reese discussed the role of the RISE Learning Institute on campus, serving students in the areas of Makerspace, Career Connections and the Academic Internship Program. Reese shared that the Academic Internship Program offers two on-site internship specialists. They work with students across fields of study at BC. Even during the transition to online higher education, the internship program is still offering online resources to find virtual internships for the upcoming summer. From bringing employers, panelists, and internships fairs to campus, the internship program works one on one with students to focus on potential career paths. The S&A funding largely supports keeping these resources and services free for students. Reese told the Watchdog, “S&A funding was the way for less well-off students to get access to these experiences that made a difference. The people that are going to be the most hurt by this are the students, and it’s going to be our least well-off students.” While Makerspace has received funding for the coming year, the Center for Career Connections has lost 14 percent of its funding, and the Academic Internship Program has lost its funding entirely.

While S&A funds do not employ the internship specialists, who will still be able to coordinate and connect students to postgraduate services. A lack of funding for the RISE Learning Institute means students may have to pay to participate. In contrast, now they were able to find these connections without a cost. Another effect of the lacking S&A funds for the academic internship program is who can find internships in the first place. Reese informed us that “over half of our white students found their internships on their own. Over 80 percent of our African American and Latinx students are reliant on college resources to find their internships.”

MUN and The Civil Rights Program similarly offer student engagement experiences through travel opportunities, and previous to S&A budget cuts were able to do so at a low cost. Professor Jones shared that MUN has been on BC’s campus for the last 30 years. The program teaches students about the United Nations, and students then apply learned diplomacy skills from the class to collegiate level MUN Conferences across the country and internationally. In the past, the program has taken students to New York, Italy, France, Japan, Ecuador, Czech Republic, and many other countries. Historically, MUN has received a majority of its funding from S&A and was allotted close to $33,000 annually. With the complete cut of MUN’s funding, Professor Jones stated, “Unless the BC MUN program is able to secure additional funds, the program will cease to exist after this coming year.”

In addition to leading MUN, Professor Jones started the Civil Rights Pilgrimage Program at BC in 2014. “The Civil Rights Pilgrimage program offers BC students the opportunity to learn through travel. The real world is our classroom,” said Professor Jones. “In the South, we learned from the real foot soldiers of the civil rights movement—people like Bernard Lafayette, who was very close to Martin Luther King when he died.” In 2017, the program transitioned to taking students to Ireland to learn about sustainability, climate change, and comparative politics, allowing students to experience more than what is possible in a traditional classroom setting. “By cutting funding to this program, S&A is taking away the opportunity for many students who otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to have a travel/experiential learning opportunity of this magnitude while at BC.”

The RISE Learning Institute, MUN, The Civil Rights Pilgrimage Program and many other programs have allowed students to experience their ranges of passion and interests and become vital to student life on BC’s campus. The S&A Committee, which allocates and proposes the S&A budget, is supposed to be comprised of student representatives. However, in recent years, the Associative Student Government, many of whom are voting members of the S&A committee, has been hired by the Student Programs Department rather than being chosen in a student-elected process. Professor Jones, Reese and other faculty leaders have cited concerns over the lack of student’s voice in student government positions, whom this year have chosen a stricter interpretation of the Killian Guideline, a document from the Washington State Legislature which states how S&A funds are allocated. In the past, there has been the flexibility of the interpretation of this document to decipher how to give out funding. This year, the committee focused on funding solely what they believe are “extra-curricular” programs, and cut all funding related to any activities that happen in a classroom, also known as curricular activities. As MUN and the Rise Learning Institute are connected with classes to teach skills that are then applied through outside-the-classroom activities, the committee cited these reasons to cut their “curricular” funding.

Eliminating S&A funding for programs that serve BC students in countless ways and shaped experiences is an issue of equity and access. Only those who can afford such activities will get to participate in them, and that challenges the whole concept of taking part in higher education, as college is so much more than what a student can get out of a textbook. In response to the obligation colleges have in the lives of their student, Reese expressed, “We need to be the network. The college is part of the process that helps students move up and connect to opportunities.” What will happen to the future of these programs, and student success as a whole, remains to be seen.