By Annette Mullaney
Cuts to staff and classes may increase demands on City College’s counseling services and retention programs that largely serve underrepresented students, yet the programs themselves may not be fully spared.
Last week Vice Chancellor of Academic and Institutional Affairs Tom Boegel distributed the Academic Year (AY) 2021-22 instructional budgets. While the full budget by department has not been publicly released, the overall schedule will be considerably lighter; 594 course sections and 156 full-time equivalent faculty have been cut compared to AY 2020-21, reductions of 15.1% and 16.4% respectively.
These cuts are part of the Multi-Year Budget Plan passed by the Board of Trustees in Nov. 2020, which outlines a series of substantial cuts to faculty, classified staff, and administrators over the next five years in response to City College’s budget deficit.
While these cuts will affect all students, impacts will likely not be uniform. Political Science instructor Rick Baum explained that any reduction in classes scheduled exacerbates existing inequalities. Larger classes, for example, mean less one-on-one contact between students and teachers. Fewer course offerings mean that it’s harder for working students to find classes that fit their tight schedules. He noted that many students are still able to succeed, but class cuts “add to the obstacles many face.”
In a statement to The Guardsman, Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration John al-Amin said, “Equity is a concern and an integral part of the data driven decision making used in this process. The structural deficit that the college faces is such that all areas of the college will be impacted; administration, student services, and instruction.”
City College currently has a number of programs to increase retention among underrepresented groups through services like counseling, tutoring, and scholarships, that may become even more crucial as students navigate the impact of budget cuts. Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) works with just under 1,000 low-income students. Guardian Scholars, for foster youth, currently works with 85 students, and HARTS, for homeless students, 150.
The Multicultural Retention Services Department consists of several programs aimed at increasing retention. The African American Scholar Program (AASP), Asian Pacific American Student Success Program (APASS), Latino Services Network (LSN), Oceania Student Success Program (VASA), and Filipino American Student Success Program (TULAY) together provided over 2,500 counseling appointments in Fall 2020. While focused on providing culturally specific counseling, the programs maintain an open door policy and are available to any student.
Counselors in these programs are often bilingual, and currently offer services in Spanish, Tagalog, Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Tongan. Moreover, according to Tulay’s coordinator Marlboro Aleonar, these programs also provide a space for students from these underrepresented groups. He said Tulay was founded because “we not only needed faculty and staff that reflected the experiences of our students, but the space to call ‘home’ validates that their history, their present, and their future matters.”
Corwin Cooley, who participated in AASP in the 1990s and transferred to Clark Atlanta University, said the experience was incredibly valuable. “Throughout my life and throughout most African American lives we don’t have people in the administration or in our classrooms that look like us,” Cooley said. “[In the program] every teacher that I remember was African American. That starts to change your mind about what you could be in your life.”
However these programs may not be spared from budget cuts; in fact, they might be particularly vulnerable. Kim Wise, a counselor in AASP, said, “[The deficit] is going to impact these retention programs, because most of the counselors … have low seniority or are on category-funded funds.”
Category funds are direct funding provided by the state for specific purposes, rather than coming out of the college’s general fund. The Student Equity and Achievement Program provides City College with almost $9 million each year for equity efforts.
Wise thinks one direction retention programs could go is consolidation. “There are too many retention programs,” Wise said. “With the deficit there’s no way you can keep what, 12 retention programs now? 10?” She added, “Any counselor should be able to service any student.”
Chris Fong is a case in point. When he entered City College in 2016, he accidentally became the “only Chinese kid” in AASP, after assuming AA stood for Asian American. “I felt very welcomed,” he said, even working as a receptionist for the program.