Community Voices

Saturday, Nov 03 2012 10:00 PM

SONYA CHRISTIAN: Defining choice for community colleges: Vote yes on Prop. 30

By The Bakersfield Californian

In just two months, I will formally take office as the 10th president of Bakersfield College. I'm happy to be coming back to a college and community that I have great affection for -- I spent 12 years in Bakersfield as a faculty member and dean at the college, and as an engaged community member and parent.

When California and the U.S. first created colleges with open access for all, it took a defining step that was essential for the economic strength and social vibrancy of the nation. Open access and equity in the educational system create the conditions for economic mobility, innovation and provide the skilled workforce necessary to industry. Over the last century, the state's and nation's commitment to an open educational system has been consistently reaffirmed and grown in the choices we have made.

California has the largest system of community colleges in the nation, with 2.6 million students. But California's community colleges have been repeatedly cut in a way that now threatens the principle of open access and equity that is the promise of this state and the nation. In the last four years, Bakersfield College's budget has had recurring cuts that add up to 17 percent -- which has resulted in canceling nearly 1,000 classes, and because of that, to deny access to more than 5,000 students.

On Nov. 6, we have a defining moment with the opportunity to vote on Proposition 30, an opportunity to reaffirm the commitment to open access and equity that has made this nation great, and this state first among equals. Let me take a moment to clarify the choice that we have ahead of us.

It's important to recognize that even if Prop. 30 passes, Bakersfield College will still face another cut of $1.2 million, but if Prop. 30 fails, Bakersfield College will need to find a way cut its operating budget by $5.2 million. This is a cut equivalent to 20 full-time faculty, 200 courses and denying access to an additional 900 full-time students. At a state level, California's public higher education will suffer a reduction of $338 million. A cut of this magnitude simply cannot be managed without threatening open access and equity -- colleges are already having to ration access in an unprecedented way.

Being clear about budgetary numbers and enrollment counts is important but doesn't fully describe the human cost of these budget cuts. Over the last nearly 100 years, Bakersfield College has served students with affordable, quality higher education that helped them achieve their educational goals. We do what we do very well, whether preparing students to transfer to a four-year institution, training students for a new career, or helping them get the additional training they need for an existing career. In good economic times and in bad, at Bakersfield College we are the answer to keeping Bakersfield's economy and workforce moving forward.

How many community members and business leaders started their higher education at Bakersfield College, or another California community college? Two-thirds of California's first-time college students start at a community college. Three out of every 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are enrolled in a community college. California's community colleges provide upward mobility for California's lowest-income students -- those full-time students with an income of less than $16,223 per year (many of whom with incomes actually less than $5,544 per year). The reality is that Bakersfield College is where all kinds of students come to learn, where even highly skilled workers come in tough times to relearn and retool for the better times ahead.

This is the meaning of the ongoing, relentless budget cuts in education -- students who could have been on the path to degree or certificate completion to move into the workforce, could have been transferring to a four-year college or university, could have been making greater tax contributions and community engagement, and could have continued to build a stronger economy and society for our region.

Bakersfield College makes a significant positive impact in the local and regional economy. We train our workforce: our auto mechanics, air conditioning technicians, law enforcement officers, child care providers and nurses. We provide the first educational pathway for our future engineers, teachers, doctors and entrepreneurs. And we do what we do for just $5,400 per student per year in funding from the state of California.

We have a defining choice to make. Please vote.

Sonya Christian is the incoming president of Bakersfield College.

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