Budget cuts are breaking education
California’s system of higher education is at a breaking point just when another large wave of students is coming to pursue their undergraduate degrees.
Students, teachers and education advocates are taking to the streets in marches and protests across the Golden State to raise awareness of the devastating results of budget cuts like furloughs, drop-ped courses, sky-rocketing fees, admission restrictions and reduced prestige for the pre-eminent system of higher education in the country.
The numbers are jaw dropping: the California State University system may slash enrollment by 40,000 students and as many as 200,000 students could be turned away from community colleges if additional funding is not provided. The one-two punch of higher student fees and reduced access to courses couldn’t come at a more difficult time, as students face the worst job market in decades and are increasingly burdened by mounting debt.
It also comes as the California Postsecondary Education Commission forecasts that Latinos’ enrollment demand will surpass whites beginning in 2013 in community colleges and by 2018 in the California State University system.
Against this backdrop, a national campaign to create a college-going culture among Latinos is being launched by Univision and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation and Univision are nobly stepping up in partnership with the recent launch of , a three-year effort to instill in Latino high school students a drive to graduate and advance into college. Through special programming and PSAs delivered via a national network of media outlets, Es El Momento aims to boost Latino enrollment in colleges across the United States. Joining the effort are other terrific organizations like the National Council of La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, and ASPIRA.
This campaign is laudable and badly needed. Latinos are the largest growing minority in California schools and will become a majority of the state’s population by mid-century. And there’s never been a more crucial time to make sure the California workforce is prepared with a quality education. A Public Policy Institute of California study found that at least 41% of workers will need a Bachelor’s degree to meet the state’s projected economic needs by the year 2025.
But skyrocketing tuition and fee increases are putting a quality college education out of reach for too many Californians.
That’s why we are rallying to save the dream of a higher education for all Californians. I have authored a bill – AB 656 – to address this problem directly. If passed, my bill would raise up to $2 billion for the UC, CSU and Community College system with a 12.5 percent tax on oil extracted within California.
While our state struggles with record deficits, the oil industry has been enjoying record profits. Yet California remains the only state in the nation that doesn’t capture directly some of this oil wealth for the public. Other oil producing states levy an extraction tax on oil production – a process known as a Òseverance tax.Ó Texas, for instance, generates $400 million yearly for higher education through mineral and oil rights.
This is not some abstract proposal, nor is it unreasonable. Our proposed 12.5 percent is considerably less than the 25 percent tax levied in Alaska. In 2008 alone, Exxon Mobil earned a $45.2 billion profit, the most ever by a publicly traded U.S. company. And the year before was nearly as lucrative: Exxon reported profits of $40.6 billion, Shell $31.3 billion, British Petroleum $20.8 billion and Chevron $18.7 billion.
AB 656 will end the status quo, which has California spending more on prisons than it invests in all three higher education systems combined.
Our state’s universities generate billions of dollars in economic activity and attract billions more in research dollars, money that fuels key industries like agriculture, energy and biotechnology. We simply can’t afford to let this economic engine sputter, especially at a time when more Latinos will be applying for college to pursue a degree.
It will not be easy to take on big oil. But you can help our fight today by joining the Facebook page “Fair Share for Fair Tuition” and emailing your local legislator to support AB 656. To date, over 60,000 Californians have expressed their support for my bill by signing cards on campuses and registering on www.facebook.com/FairTuition.
As the first in my family to obtain a higher education, I can attest to the importance of gaining a degree. And as the proud father of two children, my hope is when they graduate from high school, the doors to a first-rate higher education at our state universities and community colleges will be open to them and millions of other California students.
Assemblymember Alberto Torrico (D-Fremont) represents the 20th Assembly District.