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12.16.09

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Bullhorn

The UC system gets all the attention, but Cabrillo College anthropology teacher Allan Lonnberg reminds us the community colleges are suffering too.

By Allan Lonnberg


IN RECENT commentaries in Santa Cruz Weekly, Don Rothman and Peter Phillips wrote about how budget cuts and the 32 percent tuition fee increase pose a threat to the future viability of the UC system. The University of California has long been considered the jewel in the crown of California higher education—and it looks as if it's about to tumble out. The crown it so precariously rests on, though, along with the California State Universities (CSU), is the California Community College (CCC) system, the largest single educational system in the world, and, with its open enrollment, perhaps the most democratic. Similar cuts and fee increases are assaulting the CSUs and Community College systems. Taken together, there is little doubt that higher education, and the notion that it is a "public good," is under siege in California. But it is about the Community College system, and in particular about Cabrillo College, where I teach, that I wish to address my comments.

CCCs have been funded historically by Propositions 13 and 98, which are tied to fluctuating state property tax and general fund revenues, now in decline with the depressed housing market and general economy. The portion of Prop. 98 funds allocated to CCCs in the July budget package was reduced by $812 million, or over 12 percent. Coupled with the loss of our statutory Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) of 4.24 percent, CCC funding is down by 16.77 percent. In addition, $1.03 billion of our statewide funds will be deferred until July 2010. At the local level, this means that Cabrillo is faced with an estimated $3 million shortfall and the real prospect of being unable to meet payroll costs—not to mention student needs. It has resulted in a loss of some 600 teaching units from scheduled classes (translation: equivalent to 200 three-unit courses and the "downsizing" by approximately 70 adjunct faculty, constituting a "silent layoff") and funding for 500 full-time equivalent students. And this comes at a time when more students than ever are seeking out classes at Cabrillo as they overspill from the similarly distressed CSU or UC campuses or attempt to retrain for jobs. They find long waiting lists for required classes—if their classes are offered at all! No wonder some consider that the CCCs are headed into a "death spiral"!

The state has responded to this crisis by increasing CCC student tuition fees from $20 to $26 per unit. And for those students fortunate enough to be enrolled at Cabrillo, the loss of so many classes means that for many, receiving a degree or a vocational certificate will take longer. What is happening to us? We absolutely need a reliable funding mechanism. Here are some suggestions as to what can we do.

• Push for a change for a simple majority, rather than the supermajority two-thirds vote needed in the Legislature to change the budget.

• Support A.B. 656, which would establish an oil severance tax and generate an estimated $100 million for the CCCs. (California is the only state among 21 oil-producing states without an oil severance tax.)

• Close tax loopholes for the wealthiest 1 percent, whose incomes average $1.6 million per year. Since the early 1990s, their tax rate has been reduced from 11.3 percent to 9.3 percent. Closing those loopholes would result in billions of dollars added to the state's general fund.

We need your help!

Allan Lonnberg has been an adjunct anthropology instructor at Cabrillo College for 23 years.


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