Community college students convene to unite against cuts, state legislation

Community college students meet at CCSF's Mission campus

Students and staff from community colleges throughout California gathered at the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) Mission campus May 12 to discuss legislation, particularly the Student Success Act, that organizers feel threatens community college students.

The conference "was the first time that students from community colleges across California came together like this,” said Everic Dupuy, a student at CCSF. 

Dupuy participated in a panel with fellow students and teachers explaining the Student Success Act. The act would implement six recommendations made by the Student Success Task Force, a body created in January 2011 to investigate policy changes to increase graduation rates at community colleges.

Students have vehemently opposed the recommendations that the task force made. A December issue of the Guardsman, CCSF’s newspaper, was devoted to that opposition. 

The Student Success Act act includes policies that would prioritize class placement for newer students. Students who have been enrolled in community college for more than two years would find it more difficult to get into classes they need. The act would also create a system-wide standardized test to assess student success. 

“The task force’s recommendations will benefit higher-income students more, while students who attend part-time and work while attending school will be hit the hardest,” an editorial written collectively by students across the state claimed.

Members of the task force said that encouraging students to complete their coursework in a streamlined two years is necessary as community colleges have faced budget cuts. “Hundreds of thousands of first-time students, recent graduates of California’s high schools, have been turned away because they could not register for a single course,” said Peter MacDougall, chair of the Student Success Task Force, in an editorial.

But Dupuy says prioritizing new students is unacceptable. “It pits newer students against older students in a race for classes. It basically creates a situation where education is being rationed,” he told the Guardian. 

Teachers, staff and administrators at CCSF have also come out against the Student Success Task Force. At a rally in November, faculty and members of the CCSF board of trustees came out against the recommendations in the report published by the task force, saying they insert the state into local policies and reward students who study full-time and declare majors early at the expense of others.  

“The California Master Plan for Higher Education said education should be free and accessible to everyone,” said Dupuy. The plan, written in 1960, did “reaffirm the long established principle that state colleges and the University of California shall be tuition free to all residents of the state.”

It has since been altered several times, and in 1985, community colleges began charging fees for courses. In recent years those fees have rapidly increased, and will be increased by $10 this summer, when students will begin paying $46 per unit fees. 

Other sessions at the conference included presentations from students who organized with student movements in Chile and Canada.  Students in Quebec are revolting against college tuition hikes in a strike that has now lasted 13 weeks.  

Students from Santa Monica College also presented at an Occupy-style general assembly meeting that ended the conference. They proposed the formation of a statewide student union, and will be hosting another statewide conference to plan the student union May 19. Santa Monica College has been a site of conflict recently, as students protesting the implementation of a program that would have increased fees for more popular summer courses were pepper sprayed at a hearing on the program. Their campaign worked, and the college delayed the program for further examination. 

Organizers say the student union would play a role that existing student government structures can’t. “Our student governments are mostly administrating us instead of fighting for us in our districts” said Mikhail Pronilover, a Santa Monica College student. 

“The Student Success Act is a perfect example of why we need a statewide student union. Organizing in our districts isn’t enough- if we can’t come together, we won’t be able to defeat it,” said Claire Keating, an incoming student at UCLA. Keating is involved with the Southern California Education Organizing Coalition, formed recently to address the SSA and other perceived attacks on students. A similar group, Occupy Education Northern California, has also formed in recent months- students hope to continue the coalition-building trend across the state.

A massive student march on Sacramento has become a tradition in recent years. But students are ramping up efforts to keep year-long pressure on legislators.

Organizers hope Saturday's conference, with reprsentatives from throughout the nation's largest public education system, will prove an important step in that direction.

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