Thousands of students turned away as education opportunities fade for many;
College leaders & students issue plea for public to ask help from local legislators who continue to oppose budget measures to protect community college funding
By Miriam Raftery
May 17, 2011 (El Cajon) –Tens of thousands of students have been turned away from community colleges in our region this summer following $73 million in budget cuts---at a time when California had the largest high school graduation rate in history and unemployment levels are soaring. Fees have gone up by nearly a third and staff positions have been slashed—but the worst may be yet to come.
“An all-cuts budget would be nothing short of an educational Armageddon,” warned Cindy Miles, Chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District (GCCCD). Miles joined leaders of six community college districts in a press conference at Grossmont College today to show the dire consequences of recent budget cuts and worse impacts if the all-cuts budget is enacted. She and other leaders praised Governor Jerry Brown for requesting an extension of existing taxes to prevent the all-cuts budget option. (View a video with more of Miles' remarks.)
But Republicans (including East County representatives Joel Anderson and Brian Jones) have refused to support the Governor’s budget. They remain determined to force an all-cuts budget regardless of consequences on local students and our region’s economy, top educators warned.
The statistics tell a grim story. Collectively, over the past two years, six local districts (Grossmont-Cuyamaca, San Diego, Palomar, Mira Costa, Southwestern, and Imperial community college districts) have lost $73 million in funding and tens of thousands of students have been turned away.
In the GCCCD, $15 million in cuts from a $130 million budget last year resulted in 165 class sections cancelled this summer, turning away over a thousand students. If the all-cuts budget is passed, 616 class sections will be cancelled next year – turning away 4,000 students. “We have 60 fewer full-time employees and 645 fewer part-time employees,” Miles said. Fully 174 positions have been left vacant, including many faculty positions, because there is no money to pay instructors.
Miles emphasized that the deep cuts are hurting not only students, but our community. The GCCCD is the third largest employer in East County (after Sycuan and Barona casinos). Lay-offs hurt the local economy. So does cancelling job-training programs and classes for the workforce of tomorrow. “The future is closing if we go to the all-cuts budget not only for East County students, but it also has a direct impact on our ability to support our citizens in East County,” the Chancellor said.
San Diego Community College District turned away a whopping 20,000 students due to cancellation of 1,000 class sections this year, and will have to turn away an additional 10,000 if the all-cuts budget is passed. “We’ve already cut 90% of our summer session,” said Dr. Constance M. Carroll, Chancellor. “Over 200 jobs are left vacant now, and half of those are faculty…We have done our part to reduce our budget.”
Carrolll called the Governor’s budget “ responsible,” noting that Gov. Brown’s plan to balance the budget including half in cuts, with the other half a plan to raise revenues by extending existing taxes that are scheduled to expire. “Unfortunately, he cannot find the legislative support he needs,” she said. “We need to extend revenue options and end the cuts…so California can make the investment in higher education that people need,” she said. “This is not the time for an ideological divide.”
Bob Deegan, Superintendent/President of Palomar College, said the consequences of budget cuts are “dire” and noted that the cuts will impact training for local paramedics, firefighters, Sheriff’s personnal and emergency room nurses.
Mira Costa’s Superintendent/President Dr. Francisco Rodriguez noted that “In the last four year, demand for higher education has never been greater” and said demand has doubled as many people find themselves jobless and in need of new skills. San Diego’s jobless rate remains above 10%, while in Imperial County, unemployment is a staggering 30%.
“This is a crisis,” Dr. Ed Gould, Superintendent/President or Imperial Community College District said. His district has a budget of just $49 million and has been hit the hardest of all. “We cancelled our summers ession and our winter session this year,” he said. “Passage of tax extensions is critical,” he said, noting that due to the high poverty rate in his district, most students cannot afford a four-year college education in Imperial County. “We’re the only game in town.”
Several students shared their stories of how budget cuts are putting their futures at risk.
“I see every day how cuts are affecting students’ lives,” said Jackie Ruiz, a Cuyamaca College student. She told of a student denied admission to a university after being unable to get required classes at the community college. “How are students supposed to transfer?” she asked. “I wish our legislators would see how important our education is!”
Dylan Keeling, a psychology major hoping to transfer to the U.C. system, said he is “genuinely fearful for my future as well as the future of my colleagues,” adding that he doesn’t know if classes he needs will be offered or if financial aid funds will be available. “I’m in a state of shock and confusion.”
Among the most moving comments came from John Weber, a military veteran and student at Grossmont College. “It saddens me deeply to know that future veterans coming back from the wars overseas may not have the same opportunities. It breaks my heart. I find it completely unsatisfactory and unacceptable.” There are about 1,000 veteran students at Grossmont, added. “It may not be possible for them to continue.”
The student veteran issued a call to action. I encourage every citizen to reach out to your legislators,” he said, urging citizens to write to their representatives and send letters to Gov. Brown. He also faulted Congress for spending millions on projects such as Cruise Missiles while education is suffering.
One reporter asked about cutting administrative costs instead of classes. Dr. Carroll from San Diego Community College District responded, “We have the lowest administrative costs of all – lower than U.C., lower than C.S.U., even lower than K-12, so we’re already at the very bottom level. We operate at 50% of the national community college level; we are already very efficient which is why we don’t have very much room to cut.”
In the GCCCD, student fees have gone up from $26 to $36 per unit starting this fall. “That’s devastasting,” said Franchesca Gade, who is coordinating advocacy efforts for students in San Diego County.
She predicts our region will see “bigger rallies” in legislative districts across the County, including East County. “The key is support from the community," she added. "Republicans need a big, fat wake-up call.”
She concluded, “If they can’t step up and make a solid decision to support the education of California, they need to know that it’s not just going to be students affected---it will be them as well.”
How to contact your legislators:
Find contact info below for East County’s representatives State Senator Joel Anderson and Assemblyman Brian Jones. To contact the rest of San Diego County’s state legislators, visit our Citizens Action Center: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/0809soundoff
77th district: Brian Jones (R)
Sacramento: Phone (916) 319-2077; fax (916) 319-2177
El Cajon: Phone (619) 441-2322; fax (619) 441-2327
36th District: Joel Anderson (R)
Sacramento: Phone (916) 651-4036; Fax (916) 447-9008
El Cajon: Phone (619) 596-3136; Fax (619) 596-3140
*Temecula: Phone (951) 676-1020; Fax (951) 676-1030