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Women in Academia: I am so proud of our students.

Undergraduates, you get a lot of shit from a lot of people. Some of it is utterly deserved. Some of it is utterly undeserved. Most of the time, you act like young adults who are on their own for the first time, faced with looming uncertainty in your future, and dealing with all the crap that comes with growing up. And lately, you’ve been making me feel very proud.

It’s been all over the news, but the California public university system is in trouble, again. Between now and 2007-2008, the funding for the UC system has declined by $660 million dollars, and the CSU schools saw a $620 million dollar decline. As a result, fees have been increasing each year, and now, there’s a proposal on the table to raise tuition by 81% over the next four years. That is not a typo. 81%. This year, students contributed more money towards their education ($2.97 billion) than did the state ($2.37 billion).

This is outrageous.

Public universities should provide the community with affordable, quality education. It should be a resource for the community, and it should be a resource for its students. Access to education should be a right of the people, not a privilege for the few. Students, good, bright, hard-working, ambitious students, are being priced out of the state university system.

While a college degree is no longer a guarantee of a good job, the unemployment rate among college graduates is still lower than the unemployment rate of high school graduates, according to 2010 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When the college degree is so unaffordable, when even the public schools are so far beyond the economic reach of the very community they are supposed to serve, when people are going into record-breaking debt to earn a degree even when they access those very resources and state schools that are supposed to support them, it is fair to say that the educational system in this country is broken. Absolutely broken.

And yet, across the state of California (and I am sure many other places but I am not there), I see undergraduate students from every background stand up. I see them assemble peacefully and protest at their home institutions. I see them raise awareness through letters, op-eds, banners, and conversation about the fee and tuition hikes and the effects those hikes will have on them. I hear them talking about the impact this has on their communities back home.

I see them thinking beyond themselves and into their communities. I see them marching and carrying banners that say “I am here to save my little brother’s future.”

I am so proud to see so many students put such value on their education. I am so proud to see so many students who place the role of the university and their time here within a larger context. I am so proud to see so many students speak bravely to their personal truths and become spokespeople for their communities. I am so proud to see so many students who are actively engaged. These students do not expect to have anything handed to them ““ the canard that this generation is too lazy and entitled is belied by the hours of work that go into disseminating information, organizing protests, coordinating with graduate students, meeting with faculty and administrators. These students see that they must fight, and they have stepped up to do it.

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