By: John Kim, College Counselor
Belmont High School
For the past several years, I have awaited the official release of the Los Angeles Unified School District calendar to find out when the week-long Thanksgiving break is scheduled. As an employee of the district and the father of three young daughters who are students in LAUSD district, I am eager to figure out when and where we may travel together as a family during this special time of the year. On a professional note, I also flag this week to determine how many days ahead of November 30th this vacation time is scheduled. For those of you not familiar with, or perhaps who have forgotten the importance of this date, November 30th marks the deadline for high school seniors to submit their CSU and UC applications online in the state of California. As a college counselor at Belmont High School for the past ten years, November 30th is in line with other important dates such as March 2nd, the FAFSA/Cal Grant deadline in California; May 1st, the Statement of Intent to Register deadline; Belmont’s graduation date; and July 1st, the deadline for most colleges and universities to receive students’ final official high school transcripts.
In my ten years of counseling, I have seen several dramatic changes in college admissions and costs within the state of California. First and foremost, getting accepted to a California State University or University of California campus as a first-time freshman has become downright challenging. Of course, being accepted to a four-year university should not be easy, but I have witnessed more and more students who meet the eligibility requirements of a CSU or UC get denied to campuses that they would have been accepted to several years before. Secondly, the cost of attendance for the public universities in California have sky-rocketed at an alarming rate, with tuition costs more than doubling compared to when I first started as a college counselor in 2006. Thirdly, the opportunities for undocumented students (also referred to as AB540 students) have increased significantly over the past fifteen years to the extent that AB540 students are not only eligible for in-state tuition, but are now also eligible for state and private funding to attend a California public university. Sadly, the one aspect of higher education in California that has not changed much over the past ten years is the state funding that is allocated to our higher ed. system. I must correct myself because according to a study by The Campaign for College Opportunity, general expenditures for higher education in California have actually decreased by nine percent so I would not classify that as a positive change to highlight.
Why is it that society today emphasizes the importance of a college degree but continues to allow our state representatives to allocate increased spending on the prison system while California’s public institutions of higher education are left to financially fend for themselves? Unfortunately, I do not have any simple answers to the many questions I have about the status of higher education in the state of California. In my opinion, increased funding by the government for higher education is an obvious answer, but it is not the real solution to the problem. It’s a matter of determining how to most effectively utilize these funds in order to best serve the rising numbers of four-year college eligible students in California. Anything that can be done to relieve the impaction that almost every CSU campus is experiencing these days would be a step in the right direction. Impaction is a term that I use more often when counseling high school students in regards to the CSU campuses. I will actually start any CSU admissions presentation by defining what impaction is before addressing the concept of eligibility index and other important aspects of the CSU system. The selectivity index is used by private colleges and universities and UC schools to show how competitive and therefore, “outstanding” their institution is to the masses, a practice that I feel is now being used by the CSU schools in the same manner. It’s almost a source of pride for a campus to be completely impacted or for a particular major at a CSU to be impacted. I understand that today’s college students change their majors as often as they update their phones but why can’t the CSU system allow students to explore a major that they may or may not know anything about? How many of us really had a clue as to what we wanted to do with our lives at eighteen or nineteen years of age? I have a sign hanging in my office that states, “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” I may be somewhat naive in believing this, but my own life experiences thus far have supported my belief in truly enjoying the journey of life.
In regards to assisting high school students to attend college in the first place, I believe that state funding should be allocated to all public schools in order to have a college counselor on every high school campus throughout California. Of course, one would argue that I am very biased on this suggestion, but the fact remains that college admissions have changed dramatically over the past ten years and the experience is certainly different from the experience of those of us who are a little older. Students today, regardless of their socioeconomic status, whether they are first-generation or an underrepresented minority or not, coming from a more affluent school or a low-performing one, all need guidance for their future paths that is non-confrontational and focused on their hopes and dreams. A well-trained college counselor can help bridge this gap that is des-perately needed for the success of our future college students and career professionals, particularly in the state of California.
I have seen higher education money be put to good use such as when it is allocated to programs like the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), that assist in retaining first-generation, low-income students. These type of programs are available at almost every CSU and UC school. Past Belmont graduates have expressed to me the value of EOP resources in helping them succeed in college. With the rising number of underrepresented minorities stepping onto a CSU or UC campus, programs such as EOP are necessary in order to provide the support first-generation students need to survive and eventually succeed in college.
I have spent the better part of several Thanksgiving breaks traveling with my family while also checking students’ applications for accuracy and answering questions they have before submitting applications (and trust me, the Belmont students have a lot of questions). Although doing so is rather tiring and forces me to work early in the mornings while everyone else is asleep, I wouldn’t have it any other way. When people talk about the problems embedded in the California system of higher education and the tremendous costs to fix the many issues, I am reminded of the words of Ray Owens in his speech at the inaugural closing ceremony for the Teach for America Summer Institute back in 1990, “How can we afford to not make it work?”
John Kim is the College Counselor at Belmont High School, located near Downtown Los Angeles. After graduating from Miami University of Ohio in 1990, John was selected as a charter corps member of Teach for America and started teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School Dis-trict. In 1994, John earned his Teaching Credential at CSU Dominguez Hills and later his M.A. in Education (Counseling Option) in 2010.