The continuing recession (and here in the Central Valley of California it is a depression) and the California state budget crisis is hitting our school hard. Got word today that our summer field studies program, a two-week field studies program that takes our students all over the American west and to international destinations, has been eliminated for 2010 and probably for 2011 as well. It is a truly unfortunate development, because aside from the instructor's salary, the program was funded by the students. It didn't really cost the school much, but the college has decided to focus on the core classes for each discipline, and running the field studies would mean one less math or English class on the schedule.
I'm not complaining exactly, because I still have a job, and a great many people have it far, far worse (although I did lose one teaching job this year already). I am simply saddened that our program is losing one of the best tools we have for training geology and teaching majors the core principles of the geosciences. It's one thing to describle rock types on a chalk board or in a box in the lab, and quite another to pick up rocks and minerals in the context of where they are found in nature. Teachers who have seen the things they talk about, whether volcanoes, faults, fossils, glaciers or whatever, will be better teachers. Geologists without field experiences are at a severe disadvantage in academic and employment settings.
For the time being, some of our more local field studies will go on in the fall and spring semesters, but I fear what is coming in the next year. Even if the economy improves it may be years before the state budget improves to an extent that will help the community college system. That somehow seems wrong, because it is the community colleges that are at the forefront of retraining workers during times of economic upheaval. But we are closing our doors to new students these days.