February 14, 2003

Commentary

State Budget Crisis Targets Students of Color

By: Gabrielle Banks
ColorLines RaceWire

When he first assumed the California governorship four years ago, Gray Davis declared education his “first, second, and third priority.” On the eve of his re-election last fall, he simplified his message: education was straight-out “number one.” But to students roaming the campuses of the largest college system in the world, Mr. Priorities seems to have lost his grasp on grade-school arithmetic.

Just four days after his inauguration, Davis (D) announced he planned to cut $1 billion from the California Community College budget over the next 18 months. He more than doubled the per-unit fee community college students pay to matriculate. Among the 2.9 million students who attend California’s 108 community colleges, African American and Latino students will be the hardest hit. According to the Community College League, as many as 80,000 African American and Latino students will be denied access to community colleges, which is three times the number of African Americans and Latinos enrolled in the entire UC system.

“The proposal the governor has on the table now is probably the most devastating, negative plan we’ve seen in community college history,” says Dr. Ronald Temple, chancellor of Peralta Community College District, one of the most diverse districts in the country.

If the legislature passes Davis’ plan, colleges will be forced to eliminate personnel, classes, and programming. Class sizes will balloon. Students who can still afford to will pay significantly more money to access a significantly diminished curriculum. Students below the poverty line can still get tuition assistance. But the mandate of community colleges is to provide affordable access to lower division courses, and many students who have children and work full-time, low-paying jobs are scrambling to figure out whether they can afford to complete their associate’s degree.

“My education right now looks kind of bleak, from a financial perspective,” says Ivy Climacosa, a part-time student in her seventh year at City College of San Francisco. “I don’t have a lot of money. My family doesn’t have a lot of money. The fee increases are really affecting a lot of people. I know three or four people who dropped out this semester.”

Juan Taizan, a students’ rights organizer with the Young Worker Project in San Francisco says, “Students will go deeper into debt, or they’ll have to work more and do worse in school because of it, or drop out altogether. If we have to pay $24 a unit, they’re gonna have to raise the minimum wage.”

Years to Recover

Students, faculty, and administrators are still reeling from Davis’s proposal. But a consortium of college chancellors and presidents has begun mobilizing to prevent the new budget from passing. Scott Lay, director of state budget issues for the Community College League, a lobby group representing all 72 community college districts, estimates that 206,500 Californians will be denied access to higher education if Davis’ plan passes.

The college chancellors anticipate that Davis will do the most harm by increasing class size and slashing programs like Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS), which has, since 1969, provided services to help prevent thousands of academically and economically disadvantaged students from dropping out. Over the next 18 months, the governor plans to eliminate 45 percent of EOPS funding which, until 2002, covered book loans, financial aid, tutoring, and counseling to help students make the transition into four-year schools. Davis also says he’ll eliminate 45 percent of the program money for Disabled Student Programs and Services, which quite literally granted access in the form of transportation, special instruction, and other support to disabled students.

“The government has targeted the students who need the services the most: students of color, students with disabilities, and students from middle and low-income families,” says Dr. Susan Cota, chancellor of Chabot-Las Positas Community College District. Cota, the only Latina chancellor in the system, fears the increased registration fees and the paring down of these programs will deal a harsh blow to communities of color. “We estimate 180,000 students of color will be impacted. We have yet to determine the number of students with disabilities, but we are guessing it will be huge.”

“Short answer is it’s devastating,” says Jeffrey Heyman, executive director of the Peralta Community College District in Oakland. “Ours being one of most diverse community college districts in the Bay Area, people of color are being devastated by this.”

“It will take years to recover if a plan of this nature goes through,” says Peralta’s chancellor, Ronald Temple. “Literally hundreds of sections will be cut. We’ll admit students in at our front door, but we’ll have to tell them once they get there, there are no classes.”

De Facto Dismantling of Affirmative Action

For many low-income students and students of color, junior college is the primary route to four-year programs. “If you’re opposed to affirmative action–this is what you do, you attack diversity,” Temple says.

Since Proposition 209 ended California’s affirmative action programs in 1996, UC admissions rates for people of color have plummeted. By the fall of 2001, African Americans made up just three percent of the undergraduates in the entire UC system. So, it doesn’t seem alarmist that students and administrators are raising a fuss about fair access to community colleges, which are intended to be the feeder schools to the California State Universities and the UC schools.

Luis Sanchez of Inner City Struggle in Los Angeles, offers a succinct chronology: “Prop 209 eliminated the possibility for a lot of kids of color to attend a four-year college. The majority of working class kids go to junior college because the public school system failed them. Junior college was one of the few opportunities young people had to get that second chance go to a four-year. With these cuts, that last opportunity afforded to young people is gone.”

Priorities Hidden in the Fine Print

With the affirmative action debate heating up in the Supreme Court this spring, the community college chancellors are wise to expose Davis’s budget priorities to the ravenous reporters covering the issue. As with education, Governor Davis extols the virtues of affirmative action. But his budget tells a different story.

In the wake of a severe budget shortfall, Davis had to cut money from many programs in his 2003 budget. With respect to California Community Colleges, the breakdown from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, a government agency in Sacramento that offers nonpartisan analyses of the state budget, makes the governor’s priorities abundantly clear: “Specifically, the additional fee revenue [at community colleges] would offset $149 million in General Fund support. Anticipated attrition from the fee increase would reduce enrollment by 5.7 percent, thus saving an additional $216 million.” The only thing missing, that might prevent discerning Davis’s intent, is the trail of happy exclamation points.

“We’re so far off their radar. Community college people just don’t get taken seriously,” says Heyman of the Peralta Community College District. “When Davis says education is number one, he’s talking about CSUs, UCs, and K-12 students. The hypocrisy, of course, is that we’re the largest higher education system in the world.”

If Not Books, Why Not Bombs?

While they await the legislative verdict on Davis’s proposal, some students are getting broadsided by military recruiters, who turn up on campuses with greater regularity than four-year college scouts. When the army ROTC set up a booth complete with a Hummer parked on campus at City College of San Francisco in December, a student named Daisy Bram began asking one of the officers questions about the vehicle. According to the City College Guardsman, Bram came back with a sign that said: “This Hummer cost $94,000 and I bet you couldn’t afford lunch today.”

As the lunch crowd knew and Davis knows, it all comes down to money. If students don’t have it, they have to look for alternatives to school.

Luis Sanchez says, “Young people don’t want to go to jail. They don’t want to work at McDonald’s. And if a recruiter comes in talking like a car salesman and says you’ll have a good job, you’ll be trained, and you’ll visit far off places–for a young person who has just been cut from their last opportunity to go to a college or university, that option is a lot better than going to work at McDonald’s.”

Gabrielle Banks is a senior writer for ColorLines, a publication of the Applied Research Center (ARC). ARC is a national independent research institute.

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