The Fluid Student

by Isaiah Mcnair-Wilson.

I noticed the morning fog was ominously thick when I was waiting at the bus December 6th. That kind of weather is probably the only weather that can give off the feeling that the world around you has vanished. I thought the atmosphere was appropriate for that day. It was my registration day, the date that new and returning students at Chaffey receive, which they are able to choose classes. It’s nerve-racking because of the uncertainty of whether or not the classes you need will even be there when you register.

The end of the year is a difficult time for college students. Not only is it literally dark and cold in December, but students have all the dreadful components of what makes up Finals Time. First they must study to get a passing grade in their classes meaning they must, constantly check their grade like stocks, cram everything they’ve ever written in their heads over night, complain about their project partners, and beg to their professor for extra credit work. On top of that, you have to deal with the harsh reality that even if you pull a decent grade from your special place and mark off a class closer to your major that you will be on a waitlist for the next step in your education.

I was lucky enough to get the transferable classes I needed, so I am that much closer to attend the university I want to go to. Some students, however, won’t get the classes they needed and they are well aware some of people who got the class first are someone who clicked on whatever class they could find (or whichever one peaked their interest) only to drop due to its inconvenience, difficulty, or overlapping of their schedule. I sympathize for students who couldn’t get the classes they needed because I dealt with it a semester ago, as most students face eventually.

Community college students were once seen as high school graduates who were trying to figure out what they wanted to do before they progressed to a university where people could get cheap education, some job training, or have a fun class to take. These students still go here, but they’re accompanied by several students, of all ages, trying to earn a certificate or degree in order to be part of the workforce, whether they plan on going here to get a job or go to transfer to a university to later get a job.

This isn’t anything against Chaffey College. From what I’ve seen, it’s a great school with friendly students, great professors, a wonderful staff, and a nurturing environment. The issue is that there has been a call for college students, from universities and two-year schools, to stimulate the economy by succeeding in school, but budget cuts and difficulty getting classes hinders college student’s ability to even succeed in the first place. California Community College Chancellor Jack Scott’s office estimated about 140,000 potential students did not enroll in community college because of the difficulty getting classes. At Chaffey, 23,000 students were waitlisted and did not end up enrolling in them. Several of my friends who graduated this year, some of which even planned beforehand to attend Chaffey, did not get any classes. And that doesn’t include those who only got one or two classes.

Candace Venezuela, a mother and former coffee shop owner, who plans on earning a associate degree in Accounting, went for three classes and only managed to get into one, and she says she was lucky for that. “I spent twenty years being a housewife,” she told me in class, “I don’t have anything [work or educational experience] to offer.” The value of the college degree has risen, According to a Georgetown University study The College Payoff: shows that those with a bachelor degree make 84% more over a lifetime than high school graduates, an almost ten percent raise since 1999. Albeit this is a university stating this, this would explain the anxiety behind being a college student, as a college education seems mandatory in a workforce hungry for college-educated. In a previous story of the same topic, I spoke about the insecurity of choosing to attend community college, but the notion of skipping college entirely to join the workforce has an even greater stigma.

Besides the long-term economic benefits, for a lot of families, my own family included, being a college graduate is also a socioeconomic and racial accomplishment. Being a male, African American student, I’m statistically speaking, least likely to attend and graduate college than any other group in the United States. My family speaks of the importance of having a college degree and those in similar socioeconomic situations also emphasize education. Some students are in this more than trying to find a job, but also to be able to say they graduated college. And the urgency of women, and more specifically men, of color to attend and succeed in college is endorsed by communities, universities, and families, so the workforce can have more diversity overall. So with all the insistence to attend and succeed in college, it doesn’t look like anyone who says college is impractical is going to get much attention, unless it is to watch their stoning. Even with all the investments in post-secondary education doesn’t necessarily mean a high-caliber job for a lot of students.

Some critics chastise college graduate articles about “underemployment” saying it’s arrogant to believe you’re underemployed and it reflects entitlement culture. My issue with critics of underemployment is that they emphasize the urgency of a college degree to get a high caliber job, and when you can’t earn said high caliber job, they say you have to work up the corporate ladder to get the high capital job. In other words, the leverage college education provides appears nonexistent and the degree isn’t the major factor in trying to find work.

So as college education is becoming more valuable, high school graduates are being egged on to continue to college, tuition rates are climbing, students are finding themselves on waitlists instead of classrooms, and millions of budget cuts are being made to the school. How can students be asked to spend money they don’t have on college, because they’re more likely to earn more money, and then graduate to find they are unemployed. Is it a bit of a fantasy to believe once you earn a degree, you’ll have a corner office waiting for you? Yes. However, with the amount of time, money, and long caffeinated nights, you’d think a high-caliber job would. This isn’t a matter of feeling entitled for a great job; it’s about whether or not the stress of college was worth it, as opposed as spending four years gaining work experience and social capital.

I once mentioned community colleges are more agile when it comes to job placement than universities, but how a lot of students plan on earning their bachelor’s degrees at a university, that doesn’t do anyone much good. A study from The Project on Student Debt, stated college seniors with students loans in 2012 owed an average of $25,250, the highest ever recorded. And seeing how those graduates are part of the 37% of all Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have either been unemployed or underemployed at some point during the recession, according to Pew Research Study Center. These factors are what make up indecisiveness about college which reflects the drop in college enrollment in 2011, according preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Education.

And even though only 55% of colleges graduates say college actually prepares you for the workforce, 86% of them defend it was still a good investment, according to Pews Research Center. That’s all students need to hear to continue to flock to school. “There’s no guarantee for jobs out there,” Candace told me in an interview, “but yet you know without any degree or certification there are less chances.” And even though I listed the costs, the unemployment rates, college graduates are much better off than high school graduates.

And even with all my issues with the college system, I’m sure the intellectual, social, and personal benefits from going to college are a major factor in the college graduate success. Community college, as I broadcasted in my previous paper, is the best route to take when trying acquiring a bachelor’s degree to save money. So complaints aside, I’m a satisfied college student, who is optimistic about my future. I was sitting at home, looking on Facebook and my friend posted about only getting on class and having to resort to male prostitution to earn money. Even though it was a joke, there is a sense of desperation for those who don’t really know what to do with only a few classes. While there is frustration and stress over getting classes, several students, myself included, found no problem getting classes, and were spared of an involuntary “year off” of school.

The California Community College system (CCC) holds more students than any other secondary-institution, meaning the bulk of students who are being seen as the future workers, reside in schools like Chaffey. It is facts like that, which pushed laws like Proposition 30, the income and sales tax measure to fund California’s schools, to move forward. I constantly hear from professors and staff that students here are getting smarter and a study from CCC Chancellor’s Office shows that Chaffey College success rates rose by 10% in the past decade and the school conferred more awards for graduation than ever in its school history, showing the words are more just than nice words from hopeful professors. And for every dollar invested in Chaffey College education, there is an average five dollar return from students according to research done by the school itself. However, students feel disconnected from the school, according to a survey, “students were least likely to indicate that Chaffey College was concerned about them and sensitive to students and their needs”.

While students continue to progress and succeed, there are grievances, and the more delve into the research, it is less about the school itself and more so the issue of economic hardship. Slicing the school budget and making classes less accessible is part of the burden most students have to do deal with. Take my friend Cruz, an undecided college freshmen and trying to explore the campus to figure out what he wants to major in. He only managed to attain a History class. When I asked him about any pressure, he said, “I know I have time on my hands” he was confident, but added “Don’t get me wrong though I think about it [his major] every day. If I could choose it tomorrow I would.”

Undecided students like Cruz are going to have an even harder time trying to explore their options, as a law has been passed statewide that California community college students without academic plans will receive later registration dates, making it harder to find out what you need. And according to MyMajor.com founder Dr. Fitz Grupe, 80% of students headed to college are yet to choose a major. I recall in my previous writing I discussed how unsure my fellow senior class was of what they want to do and touted that community college is the best way to go to find time.

I’m starting to doubt my position, seeing how difficult it is for students to even find a few classes. And when it comes to decided students, a lot of them agree with the law, saying that it helps them get to their goals faster. This past semester, I’ve seen students in my classrooms who are just taking the class just to explore and drop it in a few months. Nothing is wrong with that choice, college is meant for exploring options. However, I wonder if another student needed this class for their major or if was the last class they needed to transfer. It’s disheartening: you don’t want undecided students to not get class because they need a chance to see what they want to do, but decided students miss out on classes they need to transfer.

I remember I discussed this with Felicity, a third year Chaffey student who told me she couldn’t have known what she wanted to do her freshmen year without gaining her college education and that putting students “on the backburner is like not giving them the chance to even figure out what they wanted to do.” Jeremiah, another student who hopes to be a Bible Major “It’s sucks that there are those people who get the classes just for the classes and never show up,” Jeremiah said, defending the priority registration “and then those people on the waitlist who would actually show up and do well miss out on their opportunity.”

And in the middle was Don Carlos, a 65-year old man who has been a retired Information Technician and resident Chaffey Student for four years (who graduated with a B.A. in the 1970s mind you) who had no problem getting classes (the classes he got were core classes for most majors) and was just taking classes because he enjoyed school so much. And of course, you can’t kick this guy out. The students are changing because the situation around them is changing. University-bound students are pouring into community colleges due to financial reasons, which changes the community college student, more adults are returning to school, twenty year-olds are returning to school, and people from all over are flocking to campuses like Chaffey.

The recession has changed students at Chaffey, for some it’s positive others its negative. The students are playing the role of water and the institutions providing them education is a container. As the container shifts, the students have to fit that container in order to stay on track for college. Students are being called to be more determined and more inventive than ever before. The new generations of students are laying out the groundwork for the workforce and not only are they being asked to learn about the labor force, but are being asked to simultaneously change it as well.

It seems students are being demanded by family, friends, the job market, The President, and basically everyone to be successful workers for the future workforce. I feel the pressure (probably because I spent so much time reading the crucially of college students success) and sometimes I feel like maybe I should just do a two-year program just so I can get in the workforce faster. However, while I realize how much people from different groups are counting on college students, it’s scary to feel like your education is no longer your own. College is more than just trying to get a job: it’s a place to become more mature, to gain life experience, gain cultural knowledge, and also get an education just because you love education. And while nothing is wrong with using college as way to get work, not every student is here just to find a job.

I know what I want to major in, but I do want to wander and explore class and I am discouraged to do so because someone may need those classes. Education is going to go through changes, especially in the post-secondary education, because the need for new workers is essential. There is a skill gap in the workforce and as school budgets gets tighter, it makes it harder for students do get what they need done. And even though The President noted community colleges as the “one of the keys to the future of our country,” students aren’t even being given the keys to keep working.

Despite all this, students are optimistic and moving forward. Student success rates are only increasing and young voter turnout for Proposition 30 reflects the students drive to take control our future more so than ever before. And even with all the shortcoming students face, the future looks brighter. The President noted in a speech that jobs “requiring at least an associate degree will grow twice as fast as jobs that don’t require college.” That means more jobs will be here that will require only two years of training, instead of four, and that means less time in class and more time job hunting.

As I mentioned, California Community College has the largest educational system in the nation, Chaffey and other community colleges play a pivotal role in economic recovery. Programs such as the Economic Workforce Development are being created to integrate fields into the community. The educational systems role in the economy and the means of attaining the goal of building a skilled workforce is almost full realized. Students feel each bend and pull that is being made to the CCCs and they still are doing what every student needs to do. Take their classes, study hard, pass them, and move forward. Even as the image of the student changes, the ability of the student to continue to move word is still there and that is necessary.

This entry was published on November 1, 2014 at 7:06 am. It’s filed under base line stories and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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