SF State website offers students a place to share stories and struggles with the CSU system

Lines upon lines of to-dos are listed under each day of the week in Katie Sidman’s planner.

Everyday she wakes up at 6 a.m. and takes public transit to SF State where she attends a full load of classes, works out for an hour each day on her break and either works at Hollister, as a nutrition peer educator on campus or assists with preschool classes as a part of her work-study position for Jump Start.

At the end of the day she goes home to study and get her homework done as soon as she can and tries to make time for her fiancé. Somehow she manages to get about 7 hours of sleep before waking up and doing it all over again.

Sidman, 19, a sophomore at SF State and a pre-nursing major, is like many other students at SF State: working multiple jobs, suffering from financial stress and fewer classes to choose from.

In an effort to spotlight the struggle of students like Sidman the University recently launched the Student Voices website.

“It was clear to me that the students wanted their stories to be heard,” said President Robert A. Corrigan. “I was listening to the students.  I wanted to hear from other students about their stories and how dramatic the need is for the support of higher education. Cutting costs is only part of the battle.  We need to get funding for classes.”

The site is a forum for students, like Sidman, who are tired of paying more money for less classes and services, to share their individual stories.

Many students have seen lines out the door to try and add courses essential for graduation and even lotteries to select who will land the lucky seat. Sidman has tried to add both anatomy and physiology and been unsuccessful. Last semester she waited three hours outside a packed classroom to speak with the professor.

“If you’re not a graduating senior or on the wait list, don’t even bother,” he told her.

This is proving to be a concern for the majority of students at SF State. In the Student Pulse Survey for SF State taken in Fall 2010, 64.9 percent of students said the number one obstacle to graduating on time was a lack of required course sections being offered.  This is after students already expect to take at least 5 years to graduate. In the Fall 2010 survey 63.5 percent of students reported expecting to graduate in 5 or more years.

Because of this, Sidman is most likely going to transfer at the end of the semester to California Baptist University or move back with her parents and go to community college.

Despite CBU having more expensive tuition, she has already received more in scholarships and is waiting to hear from financial aid, but most importantly will be able to get the courses she needs.

“I’m going to have to leave either way,” Sidman said. “I can’t afford to stay. Either I will be able to afford CBU or go home to community college, which would be way worse.”

This year she received $2,000 to $3,000 less in grants because her mother makes $200 more than the maximum income for applicants.

“My future as a pre-nursing student is looking dismal here,” Sidman said. “Because I can’t even get an anatomy class or any labs.”

She is not alone, in the Fall 2011 SF State Student Pulse Survey of the students who did not expect to be able to complete their Bachelor’s degree, 58.8 percent said that it was because they did not have the money to pay for it.

More than 400 students have shared their stories on the website, according to Shawn Whalen, the deputy chief of staff to President Corrigan. Most of them are strikingly similar to Sidman’s, and they have all been posted uncensored.

“It wasn’t the volume of the stories we received that was so impressive,” Whalen said. “It was the common themes, the compelling nature, the amount of impact and the detail they were told in. It rings true when the stories aren’t ‘now I don’t get an iPad’ but they are ‘you’re killing my parents.’”

According to Whalen and President Corrigan, it is the middle class, families that have even set aside for their children’s education that are being hit hardest by the economic crisis and the increases in tuition.

“The problems we are seeing now is that low income families receive the most amount of financial aid, and wealthy parents can pay for college,” Corrigan said. “It’s that middle class, families making $60,000 a year that’s the group, that has been heavily hit with the tuition increase. We have got to continue to push as hard as we can to get the legislature to support higher education.”

President Corrigan has sent out letters to the local legislative representatives, according to Whalen, including Sen. Leland Yee. According to Yee’s office, he is currently drafting a letter to the students of SF State in response to their stories, but that is only part of the battle.

According to President Corrigan, it is not our local legislatures that have been the problem.  They have always historically been friends to higher education.

“Our legislatures, they are the easy ones,” Corrigan said. “These are not the people standing between us and funding. It’s the Republicans that resist tax increases. We need to reach out to them, to get the student stories to them. That’s why we need to get other campuses in CSU system to take part in this effort.”

Many of the student voices stories were printed on the back of mock $750 million with Gov. Jerry Brown’s face on them as a part of the California State Student Association’s “Buck Starts Here” campaign and placed in a ballot box that will be delivered to Gov. Jerry Brown during the March Day of Action, along with stories from students across the CSU system.

As far as any additional action to get these student voices heard by the legislature and voters throughout the state, President Corrigan currently has no official plan, but would like to see some form of the website spread to all the campuses in the CSU system. He hopes to use this website as a tool to reach to the legislature as well as voters so that they may begin to truly understand the struggles students face and that these students stories will help legislatures think twice before cutting funding for higher education.

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