Raise Fees to $26 a Unit? No Way!

El Vaquero Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A delegation of 10 GCC students traveled to the state capitol March 15 to meet with lawmakers in an effort to curb proposed budget cuts and tuition hikes for the community colleges.
The visits by GCC students to legislators’ offices were part of a larger effort taking place outside the Capitol, where more than 8,000 students gathered on the steps.?

Representatives from GCC’s student government organization visited the Capitol in 2003. According to Student Services Coordinator Alen Andriassian, this year’s visit focused more on visiting with lawmakers than on protesting on the capitol steps. The goal, much like last year, was to persuade lawmakers to have mercy on the community colleges by decreasing the amount of cuts and fees.?

“And the additional fees will not even go back to us, they’ll go back to the state,” said student Senator of Campus Activities Meme Tran, who traveled to Sacramento to meet with lawmakers. “Students had to find part-time jobs to pay off the bill [they] got in the middle of the semester.” Tran says she does not see things improving any time soon. “The legislators told us that cuts are being made everywhere: left and right. There is nothing they can do right now.” Tran does believe, however, that her presence and that of her student colleagues made a difference, no matter how small. She feels that legislators did listen to what they had to say. Whether or not legislators take their arguments into consideration when deciding this year’s budget, Tran does not know.?

The tuition hike seemed to be the universal concern this year for students.

Last year’s tuition hike brought fees up to $18 per unit in the middle of the fall semester, which meant that students had to make up the difference when many had already spent $200 on classes, not including books.?

“Keep the Doors Open” was the theme of this year’s rally, which drew the attention of community college students from as far north as Eureka and as far south as San Diego. ?

Students, faculty and parents began to convene at the Capitol steps around 9 a.m.

It did not take long for standing room to become prime real estate, as a sea of students began making their way slowly to the beat of drums from nearby Raley Field around 10 a.m. The rally had an official start time of 10:30 a.m.

The march up the Capitol mall took about 30 minutes, and by that time cheers, hollers and yells over megaphones could be heard. One man even marched up the Capitol mall in what could be described as his best effort to reenact the Passion of Christ, complete with a crown of thorns and a cross made out of plywood — symbolic, he said, of students having to carry their own cross and bear suffering in the form of having to pay a proposed $26 per unit for classes.?

Andriassian said he could not imagine the impact an increase to $26 per unit would have on GCC. He predicts an additional loss of students. Glendale College has lost roughly 2,000 students and 500 class sections to budget cuts.

“We have no idea how this will affect our system,” said Andriassian. “Jobs are bad so people are going back to the community colleges to get retrained for new jobs.”?

GCC basically is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Reeling from an already shrinking budget and higher student population, the college is expected to provide classes and services to additional students from an already poor job market and students from the already crowded CSU and UC systems, due to a new strategy proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in January to relieve overcrowding. ?

According to Andriassian, Schwarzenegger’s proposal allows the CSU and UC schools to “reroute” students that have been granted admission to a four-year school into a community college to finish their general education requirements.

After finishing at their community college, students can begin classes at the CSU or UC campus of their choice. Schwarzenneger has proposed that 10 percent of incoming freshman be rerouted to community colleges, although this has met resistance from students who do not wish to go to community college but want the full four-year college experience.

Andriassian said that this strategy could backfire for the community colleges given that rerouted students would get priority admission over regular community college students who have been enrolled longer.?

“We feel that the increase in fees is a direct tax on the students,” said GCC Associated Students Vice President of Campus Organizations Aron Keshishian. “We are expected to pay more and do more and get less? For us, this makes no sense. The logical thing would be to pay more and get more.”?

Joining the throngs of students at the capitol were 180 additional “students.”

But these students were not students at all. Standing roughly 5 feet high, fiberglass sculptures — two for each college, male and female — were decorated by students at 65 colleges. Dubbed the “Missing Student Project,” the statues represented the missing students of California’s community colleges — students who are missing from campus because they were not able to register for classes.

Each statue was painted and decorated by its respective college in whatever way the artist or artists saw fit.

Several statues were decorated using bicycle chains with combination locks. Other statues were decorated with pictures of students’ faces; one even featured the face of President George W. Bush on its buttocks. ?

Agneta Hurst, Won Jang Lee, Keiko Nimura, Rose Tharp and Cheri Uno decorated GCC’s statues.?

“The design of the Glendale Community College ‘Missing Student’ sculptures communicate sadness, mourning, loss, dejection fragmentation and ‘you could be the next student, faculty or staff cut,’ ” a description on the “Keep the Doors Open” homepage states. “Hundreds of typical GCC names humanize the loss of students, faculty and staff.”
Indeed, the shell of the statues are covered with names from head to toe in a sort of memorial to the students who were not able to get into a classroom and staff who were laid off. ?

“The ‘Missing Student’ project was a good idea,” said Keshishian. “It was an ‘in your face’ strategy. It gave legislators something to look at.”?

Looking ahead, opinions are mixed as to where GCC’s budget situation will go next. ?

“It was a win-win situation talking to the legislators themselves,” said Tran.?

“Bonds may help us out a bit; it’s hard to say,” Andriassian said. “I feel we are going to be in trouble. The tough times won’t end any time soon.”