Friday, January 31, 2014

Legislators urged to support community colleges

Sacramento team
Left to right: Esau Cortez, president of the Associated Students of Grossmont College;
Zack Ginanino, Grossmont College student trustee
Elsa Hernandez, Cuyamaca College student trustee
Jaclyn Marlow, president of Associated Students of Cuyamaca College
Trustee Debbie Justeson
Chancellor Cindy Miles
 Anne Krueger, communications and public information director
Trustee Greg Barr

It was a more upbeat mood than the past four years when representatives from community colleges in San Diego and Imperial counties met with state legislators this week to advocate for funding and programs benefitting the more than 140,000 students who attend the nine colleges in the region.

The November 2012 passage of Proposition 30, a temporary statewide tax supporting education, has eased the budget crunch that forced the colleges to eliminate hundreds of class sections and turn away thousands of students. Although the colleges still have not returned to 2008-2009 funding levels, the improved budget situation has allowed them to add classes, offer winter intersession courses, and hire more faculty.

CEOs, trustees, students and faculty from the community colleges in the two-county area – Cuyamaca, Grossmont, San Diego City, San Diego Mesa, San Diego Miramar, MiraCosta, Palomar, Southwestern and Imperial Valley --  met with their legislators as part of the Community College League of California’s annual legislative summit. The group met with incoming Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins; Assembly members Rocky Chavez, Lorena Gonzalez,  Brian Jones, Manuel Perez, and Shirley Weber; and state senators Marty Block, Ben Hueso and Mark Wyland.

Assembly members Brian Maienschein and Marie Waldron and state Sen. Joel Anderson were unable to attend, but sent their top assistants to meet with the group.

The college leaders urged legislators to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget for community colleges, which includes:
  • $155.2 million to fund a 3 percent restoration of access
  • $200 million to increase orientation, assessment, placement, counseling and other educational planning services called for in the Student Success Act
  • $175 million for deferred maintenance and instructional equipment
  • $48.5 million for a 0.86 percent cost of living increase
  • $3.6 million to provide additional staffing and technical assistance in the California Community College Chancellor’s Office.
Gavin Newsom with students
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom talks with Chancellor Cindy Miles,
Jaclyn Marlow, Associated Students of Cuyamaca College president;
and Zack Gianino, student trustee for Grossmont College
Weber, a strong supporter for education since she was elected to the Assembly in 2012, said this budget is the first step in restoring funding to areas that will build California’s economy.

“We recognize that if we are going to be smart in our rebuilding, we need to invest in things that build the long-term effect, and we do that with education,” Weber said. “Community colleges have been the backbone of California. There are very few institutions with such a broad reach as community colleges.”
Gonzalez also lauded community colleges for providing access to all students.

“If it wasn’t for community colleges, we wouldn’t have that gateway to higher education,” she said. “Even with this additional funding, there have been too many cuts.”

Assemblyman Brian Jones noted the importance of the visit. “We can become isolated from the real world up here,” he said. “It’s very important that you put your faces in front of our faces—we need to be reminded who we represent.”

The students and college leaders also urged legislators to support SB 850, a bill authored by Block that would allow community colleges to offer applied bachelor’s degrees in certain fields with a high workforce demand, such as nursing or information technology. If enacted, the bill would assist students who need a bachelor’s degree to get a job but are unable to enroll at public universities because few spots are available. 

Cindy Miles, chancellor of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, attended the meetings with trustees Greg Barr and Debbie Justeson and student trustees Zack Gianino and Elsa Hernandez. She called the legislative meetings a success.

“Students, trustees, CEOs and faculty members from our entire region had the opportunity to tell our legislators what is important to them,” Miles said. “With a gradually improving budget and economic picture, we wanted to thank our legislators for their support through the dark years of the recession and encourage them to support the governor’s proposed budget which would help us continue to rebuild our courses and serve more students.”