Before coming to the U.S., I had the myth in my mind that American students are all rich financially and can afford a college education very easily. Or if American students are unable to pay their fee then having an American nationality solves all their problems and government provides them free education. I also thought no one needs to protest in the States, as people get all the rights very easily and they need not to worry about anything.
Back in Pakistan once I read Franklin D. Roosevelt?s quote, ?The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize,? and Mark Twain?s statement, ?Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail.? I started believing ?.. American youth are so lucky and blessed that their policy makers know the vision and importance of education. Unlike developing countries, America doesn?t need to compromise education budget over defense budget.
But while staying here I realized that reality is quite the contrary. Although a certain percentage of American college students do come from wealthy families and have large expendable incomes, most American college students come from moderate-income families. Most American students enter college knowing they must apply for loans, work part-time, and earn scholarships in order to meet their financial obligations.
I had another myth that studying in America is very cheap for those who go to colleges in their home states. But now I learned that although state or city-owned colleges and universities are relatively inexpensive, especially if you are a resident of the city in which they are located, it?s still not cheap and there is no such thing as free education.
March in March
If you have had any of the above stereotypes this will serve as a reminder to you to ?research before you react.? Just as Americans hold outrageous perceptions of the outside world, I felt I too may need to check my assumptions about the U.S. education budget and share my experience with other international students too.
Since I came to the U.S., every now and then I hear about budget deficits and funding cuts. The state of California, where I study, has a budget deficit in the billions. As part of his budget plan to close the gap, Governor Jerry Brown is proposing cuts of $500 million to University of California schools and the California State University system and $400 million to community colleges (according to the Legislative Analyst?s Office ? opens as PDF).
In protest against these proposed cuts to higher education, people from all over the state gathered at the steps of the State Capitol March 14 for the ?March in March,? a rally in support of higher education. Students were bused from all over the state to the Towe Auto Museum, where the march officially began.
More than 13,000 students, teachers and supporters all across California rallied together in Sacramento to protest against cuts to higher education. This year?s march was the fourth year in a row that a similar protest has been held at the state capitol. The students there were of the opinion that this is an important issue ? we don?t want cuts to education as education is one of the most important things that shape our society.
My experience at the march
Arnold Schwarzenegger left and Jerry Brown came into the governor?s office in California. Who cares? Let them come and let them go as I am busy in pursuing my own education. But wait. I DO CARE NOW as a student. The recent decisions of budget cuts are not just phony cuts. They will have a great and serious impact on our lives and future. We PROTEST the proposed budget cuts.
We left from our schools at 7:00 am in the buses arranged by the administration to transport students to Sacramento. It was rainy weather, but that didn?t stop us. The rally was a day of solidarity against budget cuts that could affect the state?s education system.
While listening and chanting the slogans in the protest with the other thousands of students, I pinched myself. Am I in the far east? No, Sadia. Am I in North Africa. No, Sadia. Am I in Pakistan? No, you are here in the U.S.A. In recent days I saw many students are coming out in marches. The only difference I see in them is the protest is non violent.
At the protest I met Stephanie, who is a full-time student taking 19 units while working three jobs and taking two internships. Luckily, she has the financial help from her family to pay for community college, but she was really worried as next year she will have to pay her own way.
According to the Sacramento Press, organizers said that the protests have helped higher education funding in the past. But who knows what will happen this year.
After the March in March protest, my myth about the educational budget of the U.S. is like a religion in which I no longer believe. Winked.