Two busloads of Cuesta College students and staff will join roughly 11,000 other protesters at the state capitol March 22 for a rally against cuts to California’s education system. Despite Cal Poly’s $12 million deficit last year and an overall drop in general funds for California State Universities of $450 million since 2006, the Mustangs will have no organized presence at the event because it takes place over their spring break and student support is lacking.
“It’s unfortunate they couldn’t find a day that works for campuses on the quarter system,” said Kelly Griggs, president of Cal Poly’s student government. “We haven’t heard much interest from our students.”
Griggs said Cal Poly’s administrators did a good job preparing for the budget cuts, minimizing the impacts on students. They initiated weekly furlough days for faculty, a 32 percent fee increase for students, and instituted a 9.5 percent reduction in enrollment.
Added expenses and tighter admissions might not ruffle current Cal Poly students, but for the generally less advantaged community college kids hoping to transfer, the situation is grim.
“We have had to cancel thousands of courses and drastically reduce tutoring and counseling services that students need to be successful,” said Reid Milburn, president of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges. “The average time a student spends at a ‘two-year’ community college is now six years for standard transfer tracks.”
Cuesta lost 138 class sections, an award-winning tennis team, most of its part-time employees, and its entire summer school program with the exception of nursing. The Board of Trustees contemplates increasing fees from $26 per unit to $40. No students were officially denied access to the school, but course offerings accommodated 500 fewer full-time students this year. According to Toni Sommer, VP of administrative services, the administration was forced to make those decisions in response to a $2 million budget reduction since 2008. Still, the current budget includes $300,000 more than the budget of three years ago.
President of the Associated Students of Cuesta College, Joshua Shepherd described the situation as “pathetic,” and called on students to take “direct action with the legislature and in the voting booths.”
The ASCC has chartered two buses with room for 114 people for the Sacramento rally. As of this writing, there were 53 seats available. Transportation is free as is lunch up to $10. The buses will leave SLO at 2:30 a.m., stop in Paso Robles at 3:00 a.m. to pick up more demonstrators, and arrive in Sacramento at 8 a.m. After organizing into columns, all 11,000 protesters will march from Raley field to the steps of the state capitol. Milburn suggests people make appointments to meet with legislators after the rally. The buses will return late that night.
“I am positive that we are going to make a difference this year, and I am very excited,” said Milburn. “Education is the key to economic recovery. With 3.5 million students in California’s college system, we are a voting block that cannot be denied.”