By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Chemistry professor Martin Wallace at Lake Tahoe Community College.
For the past 50 years, California’s students have been told that if they work hard and do well in school, they will have access to an affordable, quality college education. But for many of California’s college students, the reality of the situation is distinctly different.
“If we want a thriving economy, we must have an educated working class,” says Dián Dolores Hasson, a member of the CTA Board of Directors representing higher education. “We are wiping out the future of an entire generation of students with excessive cuts and tuition increases.”
This year, 40,000 eligible students were denied admission to California State University campuses. And students from community colleges, previously assured of being able to transfer to four-year institutions, were refused admission at nearly every CSU campus.
“What are community college transfer students supposed to do — go out of state?” asks Ron Norton Reel, president of the Community College Association.
At community colleges and CSU campuses, teaching positions and class offerings have been drastically cut, so students are finding it difficult — or impossible — to enroll in classes they need to graduate.
At the CSU level, students are paying more for less. Tuition has gone up 32 percent this year and has nearly tripled since 2002. State lawmakers cut both CSU and UC budgets by 20 percent in 2009. The cost of tuition is now nearly $5,000 a year at CSU and $11,000 a year at UC campuses.
“We will continue fighting to guarantee that our colleges get the resources they need, deserve and are owed under law,” says CTA President David A. Sanchez. “The future of California depends on higher education. It’s tragic when qualified students are turned away.”
In his State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized the importance of affordable, quality education. “Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma,” said the president. “We know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education — from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.”
Access to a complete education was a top priority for California under the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education — which, ironically, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. The plan, intended to guarantee Californians an affordable, accessible, high-quality college education, served as a national model. Until recently, California’s college system was one of the best in the nation.
But that is no longer true: California dropped to 40th place in the nation for students entering college after high school. California has cut spending on public universities and community colleges more than any of the nation’s other most populous states except Florida, according to a study by the University of Washington.
“What’s happening is that a devastating level of cuts has been piled on top of many years’ worth of devastating cuts,” says Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association. “We are putting higher education at risk in a way that has never happened in this state before. If we continue down this path, public higher education will be completely dismantled. There will be no return from the direction we are going — which is straight off a cliff if we don’t start prioritizing and making an investment in students.”
The following stories — which show the impact of budget cuts at a CSU campus and a California community college — illustrate the strain that higher education is under and reflect student hardships and teacher challenges everywhere across the state.
Feeling the pain at Cal Poly Pomona
Tough times at Lake Tahoe Community College