Low Funding Leaves SAAS In the Dust

It has been a year since the campus program Student Academic Advancement Services (SAAS) ceased to exist.

SAAS was a grant funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education (DOE) Student Support Services (SSS) TRIO program. Its function is to increase the retention and graduation rates of first generation/low-income college students, as well as students with disabilities. It was considered an exemplary “best practices” program by the DOE and was continually funded at UCI for about 35 years. In fact, it was the largest SSS program in California, serving 500 students a year (many UCI staff and some faculty are SAAS alumni).

On July 31, 2009, the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) stated that SAAS would be shut down due to budget cuts and its entire staff would be laid off. In its place, DUE was to create a new program called Student Support Services (SSS), which would continue to offer the same services.

The Dean assured students in a campus-wide e-mail sent on August 25, 2009 that “services offered by [SSS], including study skills workshops, academic counseling, career planning and tutoring, will continue under the direction of the Dean of Undergraduate Education.”

A year later, the Department of Education declined to continue the SSS grant that DUE/UCI submitted for funding.  In essence, DUE lost a successful three-decades-old grant that had assisted thousands of students.

Without the much-needed funding, DUE will have difficulty fulfilling its promises to the students. Besides losing the assistance of a LARC class, professional staff availability is limited to a counselor from Transfer Services and a faculty director staffing the office. SAAS students were previously used to personal assistance from professional and caring staff always available to them. This is now gone.

“I can’t imagine how many students will not be able to benefit from the same services I received from SAAS,” said Leandra Ordorica, a current fourth year Chicano/Latino Studies major and former SAAS student, Peer Adviser and Summer Bridge Residential Advisor (RA).

Former SAAS students also lament the program’s closure. A UCI Alumna, former SAAS student, peer adviser and Summer Bridge RA, Tatiana Diaz says “SAAS not only provided me with academic support services like workshops, tutoring and great counseling, but I made great friendships too.”

Many SAAS students became concerned that SAAS was being shut down and quickly mobilized. Many wrote to Chancellor Drake, UC President Mark Yudof and Dean Salinger, urging them to reconsider the decision. The requests fell on deaf ears with either canned e-mail responses or no response at all.

Taking to the Internet, SAAS alumna and Head RA Deborah Lee started a Facebook group called “Save SAAS at UCI Now!” which amassed 500 fans within hours and over 1,000 after a few days. Not long afterward, another SAAS alumna created a YouTube video entitled “Save SAAS,” wherein students described how SAAS assisted them. Lee and former assistant Head RA Luz Colin went on KUCI’s “Subversity Show” to discuss SAAS’s closure and the damage its closure would mean.

On Sept. 21st, 2009, SAAS students held a peaceful protest on campus, at which Dean Salinger reassured students that SSS would provide the same services that SAAS did — and perhaps do it better.  Many students remained unconvinced.

A year has passed, but some students remain disgruntled with SSS. A past Summer Bridge participant expressed feeling discomfort after attending some SSS workshops, saying, “When I went, the senior staff adviser would only talk to the transfer students, and she would be there only for a few minutes. It felt uncomfortable.”

Her feelings are shared by many past Summer Bridge participants, who stopped attending the workshops as a result. When they received an e-mail about applying for the Summer Bridge RA position, many simply didn’t apply.

“I did not apply for Summer Bridge because I heard it wasn’t going to be like last year’s Summer Bridge,” Monica Cabrera, second year Anthropology major said.

Summer Bridge was a program SAAS offered to incoming freshman. It was a rigorous five-week academic and residential program that assisted incoming students with their transition to college. This year’s iteration was modeled after the freshman Summer Start Program.  Incoming students had classes with regular students, and did not get the personal attention and assistance as before.

SAAS’s Summer Bridge included classes exclusive for Summer Bridge participants with instructors and RAs directly hired and trained by SAAS. The RAs held events, workshops, field trips, study sessions, personal counseling and other services, all of which were not provided this past summer.

“Summer Bridge was one of the most disciplined, intense things I have ever done. But I didn’t have a problem with it because it was a new experience for me,” Narith Ta, a second year Korean literature and culture major, said.

Current SSS students are confused about what SSS is now.  They were not notified the grant was lost until some asked for LARC assistance.  As one stated, “I went in the office and an SSS adviser informed me that LARC wasn’t offered anymore at this time … that’s when I found out that there was no more Federal grant.”

On Sept. 28th, Dr. Vickie Basolo, SSS faculty adviser, notified past Summer Bridge participants that they will continue to provide LARC assistance only for Summer Bridge participants, not all SSS-eligible students.  Approximately 26 percent of UCI students are Pell Grant recipients (low income) and would have qualified for SAAS and LARC assistance.
Many students continue to be upset at the dean of DUE for closing down SAAS.

When Dean Salinger in a pre-taped interview for KUCI’s “Subversity Show” was asked what TRIO stood for, she said, “You know, that’s a really good question, I have no idea, I should’ve looked it up”.

No idea indeed.