August 31, 2001

Commentary

Making Community Colleges Whole

By Assemblyman Bob Pacheco
(R-Walnut)

As a child, I worked alongside my father, who immigrated from Mexico, as a migrant farm worker picking cotton throughout the Southwest. While toiling in the fields, I dreamt of going to college, learning a trade, and providing for my family. Unable to afford the costs of a University of California or a California State University, I enrolled at East Lost Angeles Community College, where I earned an Associate of Arts degree.

In the decades since leaving East Los Angeles Community College, I have enjoyed success in business, law and public service, culminating in my tenure in the State Assembly. The life I lead today is intricately tied to the opportunities community college presented me.

Unfortunately, years of funding neglect by California's elected officials threaten to undermine our community colleges and the opportunities they afford our citizens. Ignoring minimum funding levels guaranteed by law, Sacramento underfunded community colleges by $2.7 billion over the past decade. The cruelest cut of all occurred in July when Governor Davis, in signing the budget, selectively cut $126 million from the community colleges.

The Governor noted that the other elements of higher education faced similar budget reductions. He failed to mention that while the UCs receive over $25,000 per student and the CSUs receive nearly $11,000 per student, the community colleges receive just over $4,600 per student. All elements of higher education may have faced budget cuts, but the impact of those cuts was not equal.

The University of California might be the crown jewel of California's higher education system, with prestigious professors, renowned programs, cutting edge research facilities, and nationally competitive athletic programs. The California State University trains the majority of the state's teachers and awards the majority of graduate degrees in the state. Both institutions possess influential and organized alumni associations capable of exerting pressure on California's political apparatus.

The community college's important contributions have not received the same recognition as those of California's other higher education institutions. Yet they offer a similar high quality education with an admission policy and fee structure that has opened the doors of higher education to literally millions of Californians. Individuals unable to afford a four year college, workers looking for additional training, seniors involving themselves in community activities, or the children of immigrants - all are welcomed by the community colleges. The 108 campuses that comprise the California Community College system are the most egalitarian and democratic higher education facilities in the world.

Governor Davis' $126 million funding cut for community colleges, an attack on the workhouse and backbone of California's public higher education system, awoke the public, press and legislators to the pressing needs of these institutions. Servicing more than 1.6 million students, including 75% of all Latinos enrolled in a California college or university and nearly four times as many African-Americans as the UCs and CSUs combined, the community colleges provide fundamental contributions to our economy and communities.

When the Legislature reconvened on August 20th, I announced legislation to restore $98 million to the community colleges for facility maintenance and updated educational materials. With the introduction of three additional measures to restore some funding, my republican and Democratic colleagues have demonstrated overwhelming support for California's community colleges. A bipartisan consensus has emerged to help community colleges - now a bipartisan effort to do so must be evidenced.

While it has been decades since I earned my Associates degree at East Los Angles Community College, my commitment to the community colleges, and the opportunities they offer to millions of Californians, remains.

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