Across the country, protests have been springing up at community colleges in recent weeks. In Massachusetts, community college students came out to protest plans to consolidate the community college system. In California, community college students participated in protests focused or recent higher education budget cuts by Governor Brown.
College students have been traditionally known for their willingness to exercise their First Amendment rights,and today’s student is no exception. In fact, college students have been voicing their opinions on everything from community college reorganization to tuition hikes, with protests from coast to coast. Check out two of the issues on either side of the country that currently have many community college student up-in-arms.
California Students Protest Tuition Hikes, Education Cuts
On the west coast, college students have come out in droves to protest deep state budget cuts that have resulted in higher tuition rates and cuts to classes and student services. The UC Berkeley News Center reports that an estimated 8,000 students flocked to Sacramento earlier this month to stage a mass demonstration on the steps of the state capitol. The crowd included students, faculty and administrative staff from the state’s universities and community colleges.
“Students, faculty, staff, administrators – we are all on the same side in wanting to maintain a strong university, and there was real consensus among the deans that taking the bus to Sacramento today would be a good thing to do,” Kim Voss, acting dean of social sciences at Berkeley, told the UC Berkeley News Center. The news service reported that more than 50 students and staff traveled from the college to Sacramento to support the protest movement.
A campus-wide email was sent out at the school, encouraging those who could to head to Sacramento to make their voices heard. The email message came directly from Berkeley’s chancellor, Robert Birgeneau.
“Education doesn’t need to be free, but it must be affordable for everyone, and my heart goes out to all these kids who are saddled with enormous student debt,” Diana Ware, assistant director for Berkeley’s Center for Science Technology, Medicine and Society, told the UC Berkeley News Center.
Community Colleges Feel the Pain
While tuition hikes have particularly impacted, four-year schools, community colleges are also feeling the pinch. According to a report from the California Community College’s Chancellor’s Office, the schools had to take an additional $149 million in unexpected cuts this year, largely because of an increased demand in student fee waivers and lower property taxes than originally predicted.
“This $149 million reduction is unexpected and even larger than the mid-year trigger cut that the community college system has already endured,” the chancellor of California Community Colleges, Jack Scott, wrote on the website. “This will result in colleges further reducing course selections, additional borrowing and staff reductions. The new 2.75-percent budget decrease is effectively doubled because colleges only have half a year to try to find savings.”
Community college students are finding the additional budget cuts to have a direct impact on their higher education plans. Aaron Contreras, a student at Crafton Hills College Yuciapa, told the Orange County Register, “I should be in class, but it got cut.” Contreras explained that because of class cuts, he will now have to wait another year to transfer to a four-year institution because the English class he needs for his transfer was one of the classes cut by his current school.
“Classes have been cut more and more,” Contreras said to the Orange County Register. “Summer school is gone.”
Boston Students Protest Community College Consolidation
On the other side of the country, community college students are protesting a different issue – the consolidation of the community college board in Massachusetts that would bring all 15 of the area community colleges under a single governing umbrella. The proposal was made by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, in an effort to address what he calls the “skills gap” in college students across the state. Patrick believes that unifying the community colleges into a single system and bringing them together with area businesses will help displaced Massachusetts workers get the skills they need to get good jobs in the state.
However, many Massachusetts residents and community college students see Patrick’s plan as a way to narrow the overall mission of community colleges within the state and take control away from local trustees from each school. It will also limit the ways in which a community college can address the specific needs of the students and businesses in their area, according to some opponents of the plan.
“With this new legislation, they want to make it more of a trade school, get you in here, get certified for a job position, and get you out the door and not let you finish your education,” Jonathan Giedrowicz, a student at one of the state’s community colleges and a member of the student senate, told WWLP.
In an effort to let the governor know how they feel, students staged protests at many of the state’s community college campuses this month. According to WWLP, a few dozen students at Holyoke Community College skipped classes for a day to voice their disagreement with the plan. Some students signed protest forms to let the governor and legislature know how they feel about the consolidation plan.
Bristol Community College students also rallied in opposition to the plan, with about 40 students traveling to the state capitol this month to let legislators know that more funding, not consolidation, was the answer to many of the problems facing community colleges in the state. According to a report at Wicked Local, students held signs urging legislators not to take the “community” out of community colleges and provide greater funding to community colleges statewide.
While the protests staged this month may not affect the final decision by state legislators, the fact that community college students are still willing to exercise their First Amendment rights in staged protests shows that the independent spirit of colleges across the country is still going strong.