Faculty say legislation will damage access
By: Linda Borla, North Orange / Cypress College
As great equalizers in society, California’s community colleges have long offered an open door to higher education for millions of non-traditional students, including myself. My grandfather was an immigrant who worked as a high school janitor, and my father, a house painter. I am an English professor — a first-generation college student who in 1978 took my first steps into higher education at Hartnell College.
Since 1960 as part of the Master Plan for Higher Education, this vast 112-college system has provided California residents like me unequaled access and upward social mobility by producing an educated workforce, boosting the prosperity of our state, currently the 8th largest economy in the world.
But access began eroding with the implementation of the first fees in 1984. That initial $5 per unit grew to $18 in 2003-04 and to $46 by summer 2012. Currently, in addition to rumors of more fee hikes comes a new, very real threat to equal access: Assembly Bill 955 (Williams, D-Santa Barbara).
This CCA-opposed legislation that could fundamentally change the way community colleges do business was signed into
law Oct. 10. The bill created a pilot program that allows six community colleges – College of the Canyons, Crafton Hills College, Long Beach City College, Oxnard College, Pasadena City College, and Solano Community College--to charge over $200 per unit for high demand classes during winter intersession and summer school. Two-thirds of the fees will be set aside to provide the Board of Governors fee-waiver students the reduced price of $90 per unit.
Similar to a plan introduced by Santa Monica College Board of Trustees in spring 2012, which was shot down by widespread student protests and questions of legality, AB 995 surprisingly managed to pass and create a two-tiered system — despite ever-present opposition from students, faculty unions and even the chancellor.
“I see it as educational apartheid,” said Lynn Shaw, president of Long Beach City College CCA chapter that has organized students and faculty at a series of protests. “Community colleges are a great and unique thing, and we are killing that.”
Long Beach is first
Long Beach City College became the first of the six colleges to implement a for-profit intersession Jan 6.
Still, proponents of the bill, including Gov. Jerry Brown, feel extension classes that charge fees to cover actual costs will provide more sections of scarce general education courses, especially English and math. Brown said it “seems like a reasonable experiment.”
On the surface, this oversimplification sounds convincing, especially since 2007-2008, according to a March 2013 Public Policy Institute of California report, system-wide cuts totaled $1.5 billion, course offerings declined 21 percent, and approximately 600,000 students were turned away from our once open doors.
Granted, the $210 million Prop. 30 funds opened 40,000 seats in 2012-13, according to the Community College Chancellor’s Office, and 3,300 classes were added in spring 2013. Certainly, this is still far from enough funding or seats. However, is a theme park-like fast pass to the front of the line for the wealthy the solution?
Even the façade of supposedly affordable $90 per unit fees for financially strapped students is a transparent deception. “Under financial aid, that’s still a lot for community college,” said Sandra Ton, a 19-year-old LBCC freshman.
Worse yet, despite additional arguments from proponents that the bill allows community colleges to recoup students and funds hijacked by for-profit universities during the financial crisis, this pilot program reeks of a money-making venture itself.
For example, the list of LBCC winter intersession classes sounds strangely removed from the English and math class bottleneck arguments: Energy for the Future, Phlebotomy, World Regional Geography, Introduction to Philosophical Issues, Introduction to Business, and Contemporary Health Problems. Are these the classes preventing students from transferring?
Currently, the five other districts in the pilot program have decided not to participate in part due to protests like those organized by Ed Gomez, president San Bernadino Community College District’s CCA chapter. Gomez said, “This is no good for anyone we currently serve and will only damage anything good in place to help community college students.”
I can’t help but remember a discussion around my parents’ kitchen table after dinner one night in 1978. Hartnell College was free. Free was all my family could afford, so this policy allowed me to become the first person in my family to attend college. How many more families today are having this same conversation and will instead be forced to opt out of higher education?
Borla is an English instructor at Cypress College and a member of the United Faculty North Orange County Community College District.