Bearing the brunt of $520 million in budget cuts from 2009 to the present, California community college students, staff and faculty took to the streets March 4 to make their mark in a movement often publicized as belonging to California’s UC and CSU systems.
Members of East Bay community colleges Laney, Chabot, Berkeley City College, Lake Merritt and College of Alameda joint thousands of activists in protests throughout the Bay Area to voice grievances about budget cuts, increased tuition, administrator pay and perceived institutionalized racism and classism.
“In the Peralta system alone we’re looking at a $13 million shortfall due to all the cuts, ” said Alessandro Tinonga, a Laney College student and member of the No Cuts Peralta Coalition. “It’s debatable whether community colleges were serving the community as best as they could even before the economic crisis but now they’re really closing their doors.”
According to Laney Student Council Senator Leonard Hutton, such cuts could alienate students with special needs.
“Programs and services for disabled students, Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS), Cal-Works, CARE, all those programs are being cut 50 to 65 percent at our campuses, which means that we’ve got to cut out the people that are in need of those extra services,” said Hutton. The working father says he himself wouldn’t be able to afford books without the support of EOPS currently provided by the College.
According to Berkeley City College English professor Marc Lispi, last semester teachers banded together to create an informal support network for students who lost their housing due to cuts in financial aid.
“It was depressing,” Lispi said. “I had two students last semester who were evicted from their apartments and one of them is still homeless. We had to create a sort of homeless support group center to assist with things like getting them into Section 8 housing or giving them whatever resources we could.”
Yet around this same time the Peralta Board of Trustees hired three new administrators, two at six-digit salaries. Decisions like these have led College of Alameda counselor Patricia Posada to believe that the misallocation of funds inside the community college system is a big part of the problem.
“We want them to stop paying the administrators the hundred and something thousands of dollars they’re paying them,” Posada said. “They keep hiring the administrators and cutting back on faculty. It’s a huge issue that’s happening right now and they don’t want to talk about it; that’s why you don’t see them at the forefront [of the protests]. They’re afraid to discuss this because they’re getting paid the big salaries.”
Tinonga said he felt similarly.
“I think a lot of the administrators feel bad about the cuts yet they continue to implement them because they don’t feel the effect. I’ve yet to see one administrator who is going to cut their salary while they’re cutting pay of staff and faculty, forcing people to have furloughs and cutting programs like EOPS and ESL [English as a Second Language],” he said.
Tinonga also brought up race and class as areas of contention.
“The cuts are disproportionately affecting Black and Latino communities, immigrant communities and the poor. When the UC system decides it’s going to raise tuition by 33 percent and in UC San Diego the black student population is way lower than the black population of the country and ethnic studies programs are getting cut that’s a recipe for fostering racism. The racism isn’t overt, it’s covert,” he said.
California’s system of community colleges is the largest system of higher education in the U.S., serving an estimated 2.9 million students annually. Since 2009, 7.9 percent of its overall budget has been cut, according to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.
The Chancellor’s Office also reports a statewide decline in enrollments, regardless of higher demand for community college education resulting from California’s high unemployment rate and the displacement of students from the UC and CSU systems.
Taken together, this means that over 200,000 unfunded students are currently attending the state’s community college campuses. Even with marked enrollment decline, the system is educating substantially more students than the state is funding.