SACRAMENTO - Thousands of community college students marched onto Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's doorstep at the Capitol on Monday demanding a stop to their rising tuition costs.
Schwarzenegger's 2004-05 budget proposal includes a 44 percent hike in community college fees, from $18 to $26 per unit. If approved by the Legislature, it would be the second increase in two years. Last year, community college fees rose from $11 to $18 per unit.
On Monday, students and staff from community colleges all over California marched from Raley Field across Sacramento's Tower Bridge and onto the west steps of the Capitol, one mile away, shouting "Keep the doors open" and "Don't terminate our schools." The march's leaders said they were expecting between 10,000 and 14,000 participants.
San Joaquin Delta College students filled three buses traveling from Stockton to Sacramento, said Anjela MacDonald, the student representative on Delta's board of trustees. Instructors still held all of their scheduled classes, but hundreds of Delta students spent the day at the rally, she said.
Delta student Jennifer Gray of Stockton said an $8-per-unit increase would be devastating to many of her fellow students.
"It's not like these are one-unit classes," said Gray, the president of Delta's Alpha Gamma Sigma honor society. "A full load is 12 units, and I've never taken less than 15, so it really adds up."
Sarah Duran, a Delta student from Discovery Bay, said she cut back her course load last year when the per-unit fee went up. A Schwarzenegger supporter, Duran said she was confident that the governor would change his plans for community colleges.
"I think he'll definitely listen, and hear the people's voice," she said.
Duran did not have much company in her admiration for Schwarzenegger. Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and a number of Democratic legislators spoke at the rally, and they all had harsh words for the governor's budget proposals.
Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, led the crowd in a two-part chant: "No more cuts. Tax the rich."
"We need a million postcards with that message sent to our governor," she said.
Bustamante said another fee increase would deprive thousands of Californians of their right to an education. Last year's fee hike drove enrollment down by about 175,000 at the state's 109 community colleges, according to the Community College League of California. The speaker's podium in front of the Capitol was surrounded by mannequins that students had made to represent the people who they say have been denied access to higher education.
"Don't let us be numbed by the kind of sterile words that are used in the budget process," he said. "There are words like 'freezing enrollment' that don't put a face on the people who won't be able to go to college. You put a face on these budget actions."