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UC Outreach Programs Axed

Tuesday December 23, 2003

As Berkeley High Senior Marco Espinoza finishes off his college applications, he knows his future looks bright.  

Not so, however, for a program that helped guide him through high school and set his course for college. 

Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger used emergency powers to cut the remaining $12.2 million from this year’s state funding to UC Outreach—a program that extends UC into thousands of state high schools and community colleges to prepare poor and minority students for university. 

Collectively, UC Outreach programs serve over 110,000 K-12 students, including about 240 in Berkeley, offering students SAT prep courses, weekend study sessions, and summer scholastic programs among other activities. 

A friend’s mother recommended a UC-affiliated program—Y Scholars—to Espinoza while he was struggling through his freshman year at Berkeley High School.  

“There’s no way I would have done as well without it,” he said, noting his grades rose to a B average after enrolling. “When I first started school I was slacking off. It really shook me up.”  

The program, run out of the Downtown Berkeley YMCA, offers students three hours a week of tutoring, group activities and—most important to Espinoza—one-on-one mentoring.  

“They’re kind of like a big brother. They give you a lot of tips and really help you out,” he said. 

Evidence compiled by UC Berkeley’s Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP)—which the proposed cuts would eliminate—shows that Espinoza’s success is hardly the exception. 

Of this year’s UC Berkeley freshman class, half of the Mexican Americans and 40 percent of African American, Latino and Vietnamese students participated in educational outreach programs. In total, 40 percent of EAOP graduates qualified for admission to a UC, compared to 12.5 percent statewide. 

Nevertheless, Gov. Schwarznegger placed UC Outreach on a list of emergency cuts—executed last week without the assent of the legislature—to pare $150 million from the state’s reported $25 billion deficit. 

California Department of Finance Deputy Director of External Affairs H.D. Palmer defended the cuts, which could end programs as soon as next month, as a lesser evil than cutting “core instructional activities of state universities.”  

“Given the state’s fiscal situation every part of the government will be shouldering responsibility for cuts,” he said. 

In addition to unilaterally ending this year’s funding for UC Outreach starting in January, Schwarznegger’s proposed budget for 2004-05—due out Jan. 10—wipes out future funding as well. 

If the legislature accedes, the cuts would end state-funded Outreach programs, including the Early Academic Outreach Program which provides test preparation, academic advising and Saturday and summer academic enrichment classes. Other programs set for elimination include Mathematics Engineering and Science Achievement program (MESA) which gives instruction to a Berkeley High scholastic program, PUENTE and TAP, which help community college students transfer to UC. 

“This is really devastating,” said Marsha Jaeger, Director of UC Berkeley Outreach which until budget cuts last year served 6,061 Bay Area students in 65 schools. “The cuts close the pathway to higher education for so many young people.” 

Berkeley students might have more to lose. In addition to their standard programs, the EAOP also funds the Berkeley Scholars to Cal program operated by nonprofit Stiles Hall.  

Begun four years ago with a $25,000 grant, the program has sponsored a group of 40 fourth graders—as they work their way through district schools—offering them mentoring and requiring them to participate in a UC Berkeley summer program and 20 weeks of Saturday study sessions. 

Annual program costs total $100,000, said Stiles Hall Executive Director David Stark, adding that without the $25,000 from UC, he would have to seek outside funding to keep the program afloat. 

The Y Scholars Program at the Downtown YMCA is mostly independent of UC Outreach, though UC does pay the salary of one staff member and Y students often fill the ranks of UC’s SAT prep course and Saturday classes. 

Still, state cuts could devastate the Y program. Downtown YMCA employee Tracy Hanna said the Y recently lost its $85,000 state grant that paid for nearly half of the program’s $175,000 budget. While they try to fundraise to fill the gap, Hanna said, the Y has had to turn away students and would likely reduce enrollment from the current 200. 

Outreach has been part of UC for over 25 years, but the state bolstered funding in 1998 after voters passed Proposition 209, ending Affirmative Action in public education. 

UC hoped outreach programs could better prepare minority students for college to maintain ethnic diversity at UC schools. But a 50 percent cut to the $33 million Outreach budget earlier this year had reduced funding to below pre-209 levels, Jaeger said. 

Already this year, Outreach ceased all programs in state middle schools and stopped paying the salaries of other staffers at the YMCA program. 

Unless the legislature manages to restore funding, the only hope for Outreach would be for UC officials to shift money to the program—a prospect that appears unlikely. 

“The problem is we’ve taken hundreds of millions in budget cuts in the last several years,” said UC spokesperson Brad Hayward. “If the university was to self-fund the programs that means we’d have to make cuts of equal amounts to other programs.” 

He said the university had continued to address criticisms that Outreach programs were sometimes inefficient and tended to overlap one another. 

For now, Hayward said, UC will keep programs in place until the budget picture clears up. 

“We need a look at the January budget proposal before we can have a sense of what the future holds for these programs.”