Older students have same value as younger students

By Augustine Ugalde

Is deferring registration for older students a responsible, moral decision? This is a question posed by Scott Lay, Community College League of California President. I think not.

The proposal to limit enrollment into California community colleges by prioritizing registration for recent high school graduates was advanced by Lay last week in Sacramento. Lay circulated his idea via mass e-mail to community college academic senates throughout the state last week as a means to deal with the current budgetary and student seat availability crisis.

The limitations would affect older students who are returning to college after taking time off after graduation. Many students who do not enter college immediately after graduation from high school do so for various reasons. Some opt for military service, others to enter the job market out of choice or necessity and others because of health or personal reasons.

In any event, the new proposal will hamper these prospective student’s entry into community college once circumstances allow for it. Lay used his experience from his days at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County to draw a comparison between the shortage of seats at community colleges with the limited number of beds in an intensive-care unit. In a hospital setting, a triage system is used to treat patients based on the needs of the patient. The more seriously injured or ill patients have priority over those whose needs were not as great.

The community college system currently uses a first-come, first-served method to prioritize registration. Presumably, Lay feels that recent high school graduates need education more so than older students who decided to delay their entry into higher education. This rationing of education had been deemed necessary by some administrators, and as Lay put it, “We have a moral imperative to ration responsibly.”

The answer to this particular problem sits firmly in Sacramento. The state must find another place to make up budget deficits and reinstate its recent cuts in education funding. As a student who has returned to college long after graduating from high school, I feel wholly appreciative to East Los Angeles College for the opportunity to continue my education. This is a sentiment that is not uncommon among older students, especially veterans of military service like myself.

How can Lay reason that younger students have greater needs than older students? How does he know if I, or any other older student, have anything significant to contribute to society even at an advanced age? By deferring registration for older, more seasoned, returning students, the state could be hurting itself in the long run.

Many of these older students play an important role in the classroom and on campus because of their maturity.  Many younger students take their lead and follow their example. I’ve been told in the past by ELAC teachers that having older students in the classroom is a big plus because older students are more willing to participate in class and engage other students into classroom discussions.

The irony of Lay’s plan, if it passes into practice, is that current high school students will be the most affected because they would be pressured to enroll into college immediately after graduation whether they are ready or not. Marginal students would apply for entry because of this, so as not to lose their place in the new social order. If Lay thinks community college enrollment is a problem now, wait to see what happens when the state creates a small window of opportunity for young students only.

There will be a rush of humanity unseen anywhere except maybe at a Black Friday sales event at the local mall. Heaven forbid anyone wanting to serve in the defense of their country straight out of high school, or having to secure employment because of a financial crisis at home, or worse yet, because of an illness, postpones their entry into college. Too bad, please step to the end of the line, is what they can expect to hear from the state of California

Fortunately the proposal was voted down, but the idea for this course of action has been firmly planted into the minds of community college administrators to be revisited at a later date.

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