In era of budget cuts, let’s get our priorities straight

In era of budget cuts, let’s get our priorities straight

In a gaunt but clearly academic lobby at MCTC, the banner behind the reception reads, “We should acknowledge difference, we should greet difference, until difference makes no difference anymore.”

A student waits for an adviser on Nov. 3, 2010. (Photos by Aaron Dubois/City College News)

The short-staffed administrative bureaucracy charged with helping students through their career plans, their academic programs and through their personal struggles has accomplished just that.

Difference makes no difference when all students are helpless to deal with the nightmare of long lines, receiving timely and effective advice and — worse still — a climate of fear and confusion.

The Counseling and Advising office offers by-appointment half-hour sessions with students and walk-in 15-minute sessions.

Since at least mid-November, appointments have been completely full through the end of 2010.

“Walking in” will seldom yield a conversation with one of MCTC’s counselors. One must be present at either 8 a.m. or 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday to grab one of the very limited spots.

On December 2, 2010, a tall, somewhat severe-looking man reminiscent of Apple CEO Steve Jobs — complete with a black turtleneck — advised the growing crowd of tired students: “Be aware of how you came in the room, that’s how you’ll be signing up,” presumably at 3 p.m.

A person at the reception added to a student, “We’re only taking 13 [walk-ins].”

On another afternoon earlier in November, the turtleneck-wearing man said to the lobby, “We’re only doing 14 today.”

With ten minutes before 3 p.m., dazed students glanced around, seemingly trying to piece together “who’s in line.”

But, there is no line. There is simply a loose and cluttered amalgamation of students, sitting in all of the chairs, crouching on the floor, standing in the doorway, some chatting, some silent.

After some candid sorting out amongst ourselves of who was here first, this writer received a card bearing the number two. At around 4 p.m. a counselor called my number back into a cubicle.

Students from Minneapolis Community and Technical College wait to be seen by advisers on Dec. 3, 2010.

As if to reiterate the assembly-line nature of MCTC, the counselor let me know:

“This is a 10-minute appointment,” she said, so I would need to get right to the point.

MCTC prides itself on diversity, and it should. Not only is MCTC diverse, but it lays claim to among the most explosive increases in enrollment in the state of Minnesota over the past decade. This school also bears not-so-highly-touted retention and graduation rates.

We students have all become numbers on enrollment forecasts.

What results do we hope to achieve when we feverishly enroll as many people as possible — including many from disadvantaged communities — only to doom them, us, to student loan defaults, scarred transcripts and dead-end career paths?

At a time in which the economy has faltered and is trying to recover, and at a time in which all levels of government are not at all close to fulfilling their pledges to education, we simply cannot effectively facilitate a ballooning student population’s proper education and support.

As we approach what promise to be heart-wrenching, painful slashes to public education — higher education especially — we must carefully and thoughtfully weigh the consequences of heightened enrollment without matching it to the requisite number of advisor and support services and teachers.