Monday, March 15, thousands of disgruntled community college students converged on the steps of the Capitol, some braving a ten hour bus ride to do so. What was so important that these folks boarded busses at midnight and rode all through the morning to get in their two cents?
Money, of course. Roughly 9,000 students from as far as San Diego met up near Raley Field in West Sacramento on Monday, then marched over Tower Bridge to the Capitol.
Leading the group was a small army of vibrantly painted plaster figures representing the estimated 175,000 students that are missing out on a community college education this year because of last year’s per credit tuition increase from $11 to $18. The students hope to change Schwarzenegger’s mind about his plan to increase the fees another 44% to $26 per credit this year.
The proposed tuition increases are a result of the $14 million budget deficit that Schwartzenegger is responsible for erasing, now that he’s taken Grey Davis’s role as governor of California. Students and faculty representing the state’s 109 community colleges, serving some 2.9 million students felt that they shouldn’t be held responsible for the state legislature’s misappropriations that led to the deficit. One of those students is Joe Macdo, a speaker at the protest and student body president of San Jose Community College.
“Stop clearing up your messes on the backs of community college students,” he shouted into a microphone, resulting in cheers of agreement. Democratic lawmakers and officials at the event took their time on the podium to further develop this argument, insisting that the Governor tax the rich instead.
But H. D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance, feels that the Governor’s decision is very fair considering the state of the budget.
“Governor Schwarzenegger is a very strong supporter of the state community college system,” said Palmer, pointing out that California’s community college fees will still be some of the lowest in the nation. But that fact was of little consolation to many of the students at the protest.
“It’s already difficult to make time to do homework for my classes and work enough hours to pay for classes, books, gas, car payment and rent. And now they want to charge us more for the same classes,” said Brian Steele, a student at Yuba College, who’s afraid he might have to drop down to part time status in order to make ends meet. “It’s very important to me that I receive an education, but these increases aren’t going to make it any easier for me to do so.”
The general feeling at the event was that the students feel let down that Schwarzenneger, who often credits California’s community college system for his success is America, is now making it more difficult for students wishing to follow his path to success.
The group assembled in front of the Capitol was slightly smaller than that assembled last year to protest Grey Davis’s original tuition increase, a fact that’s likely a result of Schwartzenegger’s relative popularity to Davis. By March of last year people were already upset with Davis on many levels, whereas Schwartzenneger is still riding the tides of favor from many voters. Though the Governor was out of town according to his press office, many students concluded that their message was being heard loud and clear, judging by the dozens of news cameras at the event.
Jason Ames, a veteran of last year’s march, feels that the reason for the decrease in protesters from last year’s event is that it worked as it was supposed to.
“Last year Davis was proposing to increase tuition without giving anything back to the students. This year Schwartzenneger is charging students more, but giving more of that money back to the schools to improve conditions there,” said Ames.
What Ames is referring to is the additional $415 million dollars that the Governor plans on allotting community colleges next year when the tuition changes take place.
But debatably, the most important thing about the gathering is not the issues being argued. It’s the fact that community college faculty, staff and students are not just sitting down and letting their future be decided for them as they have in the past. They’re trying to make things better for themselves, a move that will be remembered in the future when it comes time for the governor and legislature to make more changes.