The original Master Plan for the California Community Colleges, in its essence, was about accessibility and equity. I, for one, am very grateful and fortunate that the California Community College system was there for me. Due to choices that I made when I was younger, I would not have been able to attend a university if I was not given a second chance through the community college system. This is one reason amongst many that I have chosen to teach at a community college. My experience is also the reason why I feel strongly about protecting access to all students regardless of their economic status or past experiences in education.
We, who teach and work at a community college, know that there are hundreds of thousands of students who are in need of and would benefit from a second chance at a college education. Those in most need often come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. There are many challenges that low-income students face when it comes to earning a college degree. Therefore, our state is very fortunate to have such a wonderful community college system available to help address some of the many challenges faced by low-income students.
Those who did not grow up in a working poor or working class community may assume that low-income students are a numerical minority in California. Unfortunately, in California, low-income students make up the majority of all students attending public school. New research from the Southern Education Foundation has found that we are not alone. Seventeen states now have 50% or more of their public school student population considered to be low-income.
As the percentage of low-income students has grown, tuition has also skyrocketed. From 2001 to after the Great Recession, tuition at the University of California system tripled while tuition at the California State University system and the California Community College system quadrupled. This is indeed a disturbing trend that helps us understand why student loan debt, according to the New York Fed, Bureau of Economic Analysis, has grown 500% since 1999. Moreover, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, total outstanding student loan debt now surpasses $1 trillion.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative that we keep our community colleges affordable. However, instead of focusing on creative ways to increase funding for the community colleges to ensure affordable classes for members of their respective communities, we are now taking steps to create a two-tiered system under AB 955, which is the antithesis of what our community college system stands for. AB 955 allows for impacted intersession courses to be offered at extremely high costs. A 3-unit course could cost over $750 as opposed to the current $138. Fortunately, the only college that is going to be the pilot college for this misguided idea is Long Beach City College.
We must be vigilant, strong, and united to ensure that our precious community college system is not turned into a system that allows for a fast-track for all those who can pay, while creating yet another obstacle for the low-income students to navigate around. This would be unconscionable.
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