Speak up for community colleges

Operator of a computer lab for disabled students at Sacramento City College

Community colleges are slated for devastating and disproportionate cuts in Governor Gray Davis’ budget proposal.

The University of California, California State University and the K-12 systems are designated to receive slight increases in funding. Only the community colleges are set to receive a net loss in funding, though, for many reasons, they are among our most important resources.

The governor is recommending increasing fees from $11 to $24 per unit. That’s just enough to drive away lower-working-class students who have slightly too much money to receive financial aid.

Adding insult to injury, the budget proposal includes a whopping 45-percent cut in funding for two very important programs: Disabled Students Programs and Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, which helps students who can’t afford things like textbooks.

Furthermore, unlike the UC and CSU systems, none of the revenues generated by the fee increase would go directly back to the colleges.

There are 2.9 million students enrolled in California’s junior colleges. Enrollment has increased dramatically in the past couple of years because of the large number of laid-off workers and because of what I call Tidal Wave II—children of the baby boomers. Increased CSU and UC fees mean that more students will want—or will be forced—to complete their first two years of college at a junior college.

Davis wants 500,000 more jobs for California. The community colleges he wants to cut so deeply offer many programs that can help people get into the job market quickly. Consider the nursing crisis. A person can become a licensed vocational nurse at a junior college in two years. These campuses also offer many classes in computer science, helping workers stay current with rapidly advancing technology.

Community colleges are conveniently located so that people don’t have to relocate just to go to school. Students can work and take care of their families while they attend classes. The educational experience at community colleges is rewarding because of smaller class sizes and dedicated faculty members who are focused on students.

Availability of good, affordable education affects the quality of life of the whole community. People get much-needed job skills and life skills at community colleges. They deserve to be a budget priority, not an afterthought.