Opinion: Community college fee hike: Only bright spot in grim budget for higher education

California’s higher education system is in crisis, being starved into mediocrity by those who sign short-sighted pledges against all tax increases. Ironically, a July 21 article (“Community College students feel pain of fee increase,” Capitol Weekly) highlights the only positive aspect of the recently signed state budget, a budget that further cripples access and opportunity in California.

Federal and state student financial aid is woefully inadequate in California and more damage is on the horizon as polarization paralyzes the nation. The State is cutting Cal Grant, slashing UC and CSU budgets thus forcing these fees above reasonable levels, and has eliminated the last vestige of higher education coordination.

Why then would any reasonable person welcome the CCC fee increase? California community college fees are waived for low- and middle-income students. If you can’t pay your fees, file a FAFSA! Hundreds of thousands of students pay no fees; the increase does not affect them. The real and pressing need in the CCCs is for financial aid to cover books, supplies, transportation, food, rent and childcare. Cal Grant barely serves CCC students; Pell Grant is threatened and no state program takes up the slack. Fee revenue – more like the national average – can be returned to the system to provide real support for the neediest students. CCCs are underfunded by national comparison, but receive average state support; it is the lack of fee revenue that starves this system. The long-standing myth of ‘free education’ has resulted in insufficient revenue for programs to support student success.

Only one truly deserving, but small population needs the fees to stay low — students without legal immigration status. We need to fix this problem for the sake of California’s economy and to be just to those who have no other home but this state; but we should not starve the entire system in order to continue an inadequate patch for this problem.

So yes, let’s continue to raise CCC fees, waive them for needy students, and use the new revenue to support survival and educational needs for thousands of underfunded and deserving students.

Ed’s Note:  Mary Gill is a former CCC statewide dean and vice chancellor. She has worked in California student financial aid for nearly 40 years.

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