Under a banner proclaiming ACCESS DENIED, the presidents and chancellors of six neighboring community colleges faced the press Friday (Jan. 31) to describe how their institutions will be affected by the drastic budget cuts facing California. Edward Valeau, president of Hartnell College, co-chaired the media event, and spoke for the group saying, "As leaders in higher education, we must come together and make our voices heard."
According to Valeau, "Twenty of the 108 community colleges in California are represented here today. As a result of the governor's budget and the proposed increase in fees, our 20 colleges will have to deny access to over 43,000 students. The proposed budget will seriously inhibit our ability to be a primary resource to economic development in California and the nation. The only way our economy can recover is by investing in education."
The press conference, which was held on the DeAnza College campus in Cupertino, was broadcast nationally and attended by 15 local media representatives. The press met with CEOs from community colleges located in the 10 Bay Area counties. They were told by Scott Lay, representing the Community College League of California, that the proposed budget cuts could keep 206,000 out of the state's community colleges.
"The cuts will have a disproportionate impact on our most vulnerable students," said Valeau. "Unlike all of the other community colleges in our region, Hartnell serves a predominantly rural community in which agriculture is the predominant industry. The economy of our 857 square mile service area is heavily dependent on intensive farming of vegetable crops, vineyards and grazing. As a result, a large percentage of our population has historically included field workers, migrant laborers and their families."
Among all campuses of the California Community College system, Hartnell's student population remains unique: more than 70 percent are from families with another language spoken in the home. Latinos have grown from 46 percent of the population in 1996 to 53 percent in 2001. The total minority population of the college stands at almost 70 percent.
"It is more important than ever that we ensure continued access for our most needy students," said Valeau. "While we work together to manage our dwindling resources and to maintain quality at our institutions, we cannot lose sight of our primary mission: To provide access to higher education for all students."
Speaking for the students, Helen Wu, student body president at Chabot College in Hayward, said, "We are all feeling confused. The news is just now reaching us, and it looks like you are going to leave a lot of students behind."