California Community College Students Protest Fee Hikes with Ramen Symbolism

California Community College Students Protest Fee Hikes with Ramen Symbolism
Amidst proposed fee hikes, community college students march to state buildings, toting not only signs, but pallets of Ramen too.

It is not unusual in the least for college students to paint signs and march for a cause. Peaceful protests have long been a tradition in the world of higher education. However, recent protests in California over tuition hikes and other changes to campuses across the state have brought something new to the protest scene – Ramen noodles. As students demonstrate their concern over higher tuition rates and fewer available classes, Ramen has become the symbol of struggling college students trying to make ends meet.

Governor Brown's Tuition Hike

Governor Brown just took the California Governor's office a few short months ago, but already he is the target of ire from community college students across his state. The reason? In an effort to balance the budget without cutting additional community college courses and services, Governor Brown has proposed a tuition hike at community colleges throughout California. While the rate increase may not seem insurmountable, at just $10 a credit hour, the total amount of the increase over a year's time is $300. That is a considerable increase for many community college students that are barely making ends meet now.

In addition to the tuition increase, community college students are already grappling with larger class sizes, fewer classroom openings and cuts to services across campus. Some classrooms no longer have enough desks or chairs for all of the students that come in, forcing some to stand or sit on the floor during class. Others can't get into the classes they need at all, and must resort to spending more time in school or finding other community colleges in the area that can offer the prerequisites they need to continue their education. Some have to wait a month or more to see a counselor and feel they have little – if any support – to help them finish their degree programs.

This video from PBS reports on tuition increases at community colleges in California.

Los Angeles Delivers Ramen to Governor's Office

To show their disapproval with Governor Brown's plans, community college students throughout the Los Angeles area planned a demonstration. According to a report in the San Fernando Valley Sun, students delivered $300 worth of Ramen noodles to the Governor's office last week. The publication states that the Ramen is a sign of the financial hardship students will face if these proposed rate hikes go into effect.

Elizabeth Valldejuli, a student at Los Angeles Valley College, told the Sun, "When the fees increased from $20 to $26, I was forced to do my grocery shopping with $11 in hand. When I hear talk of a $10 fee increase, I think about how many Ramen soups are equivalent to the $300 extra dollars they will be taxing students."

Others agree that the fee increase is nothing more than a dressed-up tax increase for students. Zack Knorr, a philosophy professor at the college, told the Sun, "I don't understand why Republican lawmakers refuse to raise taxes on the wealthy, but have no problem raising fees $300 for community college students. My students can't afford the fees where they are right now and I'm afraid that a lot of them are going to be forced to drop out of school."

San Diego Marches to State Building

Community college students in San Diego also let their voices be heard last week. These students carried 28 cases of Ramen noodles to the steps of the State Building to protest tuition hikes. Lanore, a student at San Diego City College, told Sign on San Diego, "People who are making a lot of money are not paying their fair share of taxes. Instead, they are imposing 'poverty taxes' on students by raising fees."

Josef Shannon, another City College student and student government officer said, "For every $1 we invest in community colleges, we get $3 in economic growth. How are we going to get out of this [economic] mess?"

Elizabeth Ashford, a spokesman for the Governor's office, told the students that the state government was "sympathetic" to their concerns. However, Ashford added, "But the state has this massive budget deficit. The governor has offered a balanced solution, with cuts, fee increases and the tax extensions." Ashford also notes that California has some of the lowest community college fees in the country, and the poorest half of community college students in California get their fees waived entirely.

This video reports on a $100 million gift to California community colleges.

Riverside Students Rally in Protest

Despite reassurances from state government officials, community college students are far from happy about the proposed changes. In downtown Riverside, hundreds of community college students staged their own protest over cuts Governor Brown wants to make to education. They also came out in support of tax extensions that could prevent additional cuts in K-12 education and other programs.

Hector Guzman, a student at San BernadinoValley College, told the Contra Costa Times, "Multiple generations are going to be affected by this. It's either we fight now and stop this while we can or it's just going to continue and go into the next generation. They [state leaders] have already screwed up so much of the K-12 system, and now the kids are dealing with that. Now they're going to have to deal with the issues of the college system."

The protests were not limited to community colleges. According to a report at Neon Tommy, state universities joined the colleges on "Action Day" last week to protest the cuts of as many as 500 jobs, increasing student fees, admittance of more out-of-state students and expanding shared services.

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