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'Squeeze on Campus'

January 18, 1987

Two hundred years ago higher education was a luxury reserved principally for wealthy male members of the aristocracy. Gradually, over the generations, admittance to college became less restrictive as manufacturing replaced agriculture as the dominant economic force, and families gravitated to towns and immigrants to cities where factories flourished, and the necessity and value of an education came to be almost universally accepted.

Besides a nation's diversity and extent of its natural resources there similarly is a correlation between the numbers and levels of educated adults in a given society and the standard of living within that country. Nowhere is this more evident than in the United States, where education is as much a part of the American dream as is the goal of home ownership. For decades the federal government has encouraged academic achievement through a myriad of programs, ranging from guaranteed student loans and work study to veterans' breaks and military ROTC internships.

And for years real progress was made toward educating the populace as a government extended and added to a smorgasbord of highly beneficial loan and grant programs, until, that is, the advent of Ronald Reagan, the most uneducated President of modern times.

Indeed, every budget Reagan has submitted to Congress has been a not so subtle attempt to make it far more difficult for lower to middle-class Americans to obtain an education. And this year is certainly no different.

Effective Jan. 1, students under age 24 will have to prove parental independence through presentation of payroll stubs or income tax returns, to verify they earned a minimum of $8,000, (at least $4,000 each year) during the previous 24 months prior to being considered eligible for guaranteed student loans. This significant policy change, as outlined in this fiscal year's educational budget, will effectively eliminate from the college rolls, hundreds of thousands of worthy students simply because they failed to earn the required amount of money or happened to have become emancipated from their parents for a period less than two years.

This comes at a time when federally funded Pell grant programs--the most common form of federal grant assistance--has declined by almost half since 1980. In 1981, 31.5% of entering freshmen took advantage of Pell. Last year only 16.9% participated due to more stringent eligibility rules. Meanwhile, the need for financial assistance among entering freshmen has increased from 20% in 1980 to 25% last year. In addition, this year's so-called austerity budgets being pushed by Gov. George Deukmejian call for severe cutbacks in state funding for California universities.

Reagan, Deukmejian and their conservative colleagues, it seems, won't be satisfied until they have turned the academic clock backward by a couple of hundred years.


Santa Cruz

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