Yung-Hwa Anna Chow, Washington State University
We are currently experiencing one of the worst economic downturns in our country's history. The stock market has plummeted, home owners are facing foreclosure, and businesses are being forced to close their doors. The severity of the recession has left America's education in a precarious position. Colleges and universities are facing massive budget cuts. Notwithstanding the ubiquitous claims that the budgetary woes will not impact the core mission of American higher education, all constituents are facing difficult choices during these troubling times. This is certainly the case for both students and their academic advisors.
Over the last year, I have noticed more and more students who have decided to stay in school because of the lack of desirable jobs and fears about unemployment. Many students have chosen to attend graduate school, obtain a second undergraduate degree or major, or sometimes, just delay graduation. Their decision-making process isn't simply driven by their job prospects, but also driven by the burden of debt. Today's students owe between $25,000 and $65,000 in student loans (Lehrer, ¶ 2). Delaying graduation thus protects them from the prospect of having to pay back student loans in absence of a job.
The financial situation we face has also led to an increase in student enrollment at community colleges, as laid off workers return to school to improve their job prospects. George Boggs (2009), president of the American Association of Community Colleges, states that many community colleges across the nation are reporting "double digit enrollment increases," despite facing a slash of their budgets (Streitfeld, ¶ 14). As enrollments go up and budgetary allocations go down, students will surely have a difficult time getting into classes. This translates into more time advising students into the courses that will help them achieve their goals. One solution might be to allow ourselves enough time with each and every advisee. The extra time can be used wisely when we check in with students, not just about their academics, but about their personal health and family support systems.
Along with the decision to remain in or return to higher education, students are also faced with a decrease in financial aid during times of economic crisis. Whereas students from low-income families may see an increase in their Pell Grants, students from middle-income families will likely receive less money from the recently passed stimulus package. Kelderman (2009) noted that without an increase to Stafford loans, students will need to take out more expensive private loans in order to have enough money to attend college (¶ 27). College tuition has been on the rise every year. Lehrer (2008) stated that "since the early '80s, tuition and fees have grown 375 percent, almost three times more than median family income. The average public college now costs about $14,000 per year, and the private colleges are approaching $35,000" (¶ 4). Across the country, colleges and universities are responding to budgetary dilemmas by increasing tuition. With fewer loans available, advisors will have to be creative with students' academic plans. For some students, it might be possible to take classes at the community colleges to transfer back to a four year college in order to save money. For other students, online courses will allow them to save rent and travel expenses by taking courses at home.
Another factor impacts students during budget cuts: elimination of majors and classes. At the University of Washington, Roseth (2009) noted that state budget cuts will likely translate into cuts in student enrollment and elimination of hundreds of staff and faculty positions (¶ 3). It also means that with fewer instructors, it will take students longer to complete their degrees, thus costing them more money (¶ 4).
Advisors must be prepared to deal with new challenges and situations. Students will likely feel stressed, depressed, and lost during times of crisis. Although advisors can't magically cure everything, we can provide comfort and support for our advisees. It is imperative that academic advisors be part of institutional and community networks so we can provide the most accurate information and resources to students looking for direction during these difficult times.
In addition to dealing with student issues, academic advisors are faced with their own sets of dilemmas. Job cuts have already affected millions of Americans. As each institution deals with budgetary constraints, it's difficult not to worry about job security. Possible cuts in personnel and an increase in student enrollment mean that advisors might have an overload of students. Travel freezes also compound the problem as professional development opportunities, such as attending regional and national conferences, are eliminated.
Academic advisors will have to "do more with less" while upholding our responsibilities to our advisees. At the same time, we must deal with our individual needs and personal stresses. As the NACADA Core Values (2005) state, "advisors are responsible for their professional practices and for themselves personally" (Core Value # 6). As such, we not only must take time to take care of our students, we must also pay attention to ourselves.
Whether we are employed or laid off, we must stay positive and reach out to our families, friends, and the advising community on campus and across the nation. A great way to stay motivated is to take on new challenges. Activities such as growing a new garden, taking a yoga class, or writing for a NACADA publication, can provide a sense of empowerment and accomplishment.
Tough times are ahead of us. When we acknowledge the economic woes and connect with others through our various communities, we learn to adapt. Then we can aid our students to secure their goals and help the economy get back on track.
Yung-Hwa Anna Chow
General Studies and Advising Center
Washington State University
Kelderman, E. (2009). Stimulus bill brings relief to some states but falls far short for others. Retrieved March 4, 2009, from The Chronicle of Higher Education Web site: http://chronicle.com/weekly/v55/i25/25a02401.htm
Lehrer, J. (2008). Student debt rising as college costs continue to climb. Retrieved March 4, 2009, from PBS NewsHour Web site: www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/education/july-dec08/highered_12-08.html .
NACADA. (2005). NACADA statement of core values of academic advising. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/Core-Values.htm
Roseth, R. (2009). Proposed 2009-11 budget cuts would cost 600-800 jobs. Retrieved March 10, 2009, from University Week Web site: http://uwnews.org/uweek/article.aspx?id=47216 Streitfeld, R. (2009). Unemployed workers head back to school. Retrieved March 4, 2009, from CNN Web site: www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/02/14/unemployment.education/index.html?iref=newssearch
Cite this article using APA style as: Chow, Y. A. (2009, June). In times of budget cuts: Difficult issues and possible solutions. Academic Advising Today, 32(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]