State voters to decide on college funding | SierraSun.com

State voters to decide on college funding

Andrew Cristancho
Sierra Sun

Ryan Salm/Sierra Sun file photoJared Colcord, a finance student at Sierra College, receives paperwork from Administrative Coordinator Joanne Zahn. If Proposition 92 passes, Tahoe-Truckee students could pay a lot less for a full load of classes.

If California voters approve a community college initiative in February, student fees could be cut and the state’s community college system may gain increased control over school budgets and local governing boards.

In August the Sierra College board of trustees voted unanimously to support Proposition 92, the California Community College Initiative.

Among its provisions, Prop. 92 would set aside more than 10 percent of state funding targeted by a previous voter initiative to community colleges.

Four school agencies championed the proposal, including the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, the Community College League of California, the Los Angeles College Faculty Guild and the California Federation of Teachers.

Jonathan Lightman, the faculty association’s executive director, said the community college system has lost about 300,000 students because of increased tuition costs since 2003.

“The initiative will enable funding and lower student fees without decreasing funding for [kindergarten] through 12,” Lightman said. “This is about ensuring access, ensuring affordability and ensuring that community college remains a community institution.”

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According to Trustee Bill Martin of Sierra College, the initiative would lower the cost of classes from $20 to $15 per unit. The 25 percent cut in tuition costs would come by nullifying certain provisions of Proposition 98, a statewide measure approved by voters in 1988.

Those provisions tied funding for kindergarten through 12th grade together with community college funding.

If voters approve Prop. 92, funding for two-year institutions would come from California’s general fund and be based on California’s adult population, according to Communications Director Fred Glass of the California Federation of Teachers.

That would sever the connection between community college funding and enrollment from kindergarten through 12th grade, Glass said. That is a necessary reform, said Sierra College’s Martin.

“We live in a time where community college growth is greater than K-through-12 growth,” Martin said.

That’s because the adult population is growing faster than the elementary and high school-aged population, said Glass.

Prop. 92 would also give the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, along with local school governing boards, the autonomy that the California State University and University of California systems already have.

“This fixes the governance problem,” Glass said.

“The last time they lowered fees, our enrollment went up,” said Dean Rick Rantz of the Sierra College Tahoe-Truckee campus. “Most of our students are on a budget.”

According to Glass, the average Tahoe-Truckee college student is no different from the millions of other Californians seeking access to higher education.

“Every one-dollar increase [in tuition fees] results in 100,000 students lost,” Glass said.

Rantz said as the more people in the community earn college degrees, the more skilled and higher paid the work force becomes, improving the overall economy.