Just like local elementary and high school districts, community colleges all over the state have absorbed huge funding cutbacks, which means that essential classes fill up five minutes after they are opened, freezing out many students, while others are simply not offered at all.
For its part, the Foothill-De Anza Community College District absorbed more than $13 million in budget cuts this year and expects to suffer another $10 million-plus hit next year.
Last Monday the Foothill students, most of whom live in Mountain View and nearby cities, skipped studying for a day to carry signs and march in front of the Capitol, in the perhaps naive hope that legislators would acknowledge their plight and do something about it. Some students actually got to meet with high-level staffers of local legislators — one staffer for Sen. Joe Simitian said he would relay their stories to his boss. But it seems the likelihood of anything substantial coming from those meetings is slim due to the current budget shortfall.
Sadly, students relying on community colleges in these terrible economic times are apt to lose respect for a California education system that once was the envy of the nation. For many on the bus trip, a community college education was their ticket out of a world plagued by poverty and crime.
Student Etienne Bowie, the group's "student rights officer" who helped organize the Foothill contingency, grew up in East Palo Alto, where he said social pressure is on doing and selling drugs rather than going to college and getting ahead. "Foothill changed my life," he told Simitian's aide, adding that the state should emphasize education funding over the prison system.
Back home, trustees of the Foothill-De Anza district are weighing whether to seek support for a parcel tax that would restore some of the funds needed to restart the shortened or missing course offerings. We hope that something can be placed on the ballot soon, before Foothill and De Anza students lose heart and skip higher education altogether.
Foothill student Ashley Oropeza summarized the situation well when she described one question she wanted to pose to legislators: "How did you get to where you are? You had your chance. We want ours."