Posted at 10:25 AM ET, 03/06/2012

California school protests: 5 reasons students are demonstrating

Dozens of student protesters were arrested Monday night in Sacramento after refusing to leave the California Capitol building, the Associated Press reports. Earlier, they had swarmed the Capitol lawn, waving signs as they chanted: “They say cut back, we say fight back.”
As many as 5,000 students from around the state gathered at the Capitol to protest the rising cost of higher education in Sacramento, Calif., Monday. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

In the cash-strapped state of California, budget cuts have cut into higher education for years. This year, the problem seems to have reached a boiling point. On California campuses last fall, Occupy protests were largely fueled by students’ anger. Last Thursday, student protesters at the University of California Santa Cruz shut down much of the school by blocking entrances to the campus. And on Monday, buses brought hundreds of students in to Sacramento from schools around the state, some from as far away as 450 miles.

Here are five reasons why students are protesting in California, after the jump.

Tuition has nearly doubled in the past five years.

The AP reports that tuition has doubled over the past five years, to $13,000 for resident undergraduates at UC schools and to $6,400 at California State University schools. Community college fees are also expected to rise, to $46 per unit by this summer, up from $20 per unit in 2007. Over the past decade, tuition in the state overall has seen an increase of 300 percent.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) suggested in a prepared statement Monday that more tax revenue could be the answer to lower tuition. Tax revenue in the state dropped last year and much of the universities’ costs were shifted to students, in part through tuition hikes.

Many students said Monday that a better answer would be the so-called “millionaire’s tax,” a proposed tax hike on millionaires backed by the California Federation of Teachers and the state PTA. The initiative would see about $300 million to $500 million go to California school systems annually.

California spends more than five times as much on its prison inmates than on its students.

In his last annual speech as governor, in January 2010, Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) argued that the state needed to greatly reduce the amount of money the state spent on its prisons and funnel that money into higher education. The same year, Brown, who was at that time campaigning to be governor, agreed with Schwarzenegger, writing in his education plan of the outsized spending on prisons compared to schools: “That’s not right.”


California Highway Patrol Officers carry out a protester after he refused to leave the state Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Monday. (Rich Pedroncelli - AP)
Despite the talk, in 2011, California spent $9.6 billion on prisons, versus $5.7 billion on higher education.

Over the last 30 years, spending on prisons has grown 1,500 percent, according to Critical Resistance, a group of anti-prison activists. Spending on higher education, on the other hand, has plummeted. Since 1980, California has built one university; it’s built 20 prisons. The state spends $8,667 per student per year. It spends about $50,000 per inmate each year.

The Quality Counts report from Education Week recently ranked the state of California as 47th in overall per-pupil spending.

Students are facing a different future than they imagined.

Alison Her, 19, a nursing student at California State University, Fresno, explained to AP why she was protesting:

“We were expecting to have a good future, but things are looking uncertain for a lot of families... I'm the oldest in my family and I want my siblings to be able to go to college, too.”

A statewide effort to reverse the declining funding for California’s public schools is now underway. It’s called: Our Children Our Future Initiative and is likely to be on the ballot in November.

For many California Students, Harvard and Yale are now cheaper than state schools.

“As the state has cut billions of dollars from education budgets over the past few years, California's universities have begun admitting more out-of-state students, who pay triple the tuition,” Good Magazine reports.

That means low-income and middle-class students are increasingly watching themselves priced out of state schools.

The San Jose Mercury News recently calculated that a family of four earning $130,000 a year will spend nearly $24,000 a year for tuition, room, board for an average Cal State campus student. They will spend $33,000 per year at UC Santa Cruz. But at Harvard? That same family would pay only $17,000 per year, according to the Mercury News’ calculations.

In part, this is because elite schools have large endowments to provide financial aid to their students. Many of Harvard's students graduate without student loan debt. At UC Berkeley, its $3.1 billion endowment (small in comparison to Harvard’s) means that 41 percent of students graduate with student loan debt.

Some students are having difficulty making ends meet.

With the financial recession affecting many families in California, students are borrowing more money to pay for their education than ever before. Students who graduated in 2010 carried 5 percent more debt than in the previous year, the California-based Project on Student Debt reported recently.  The average student carried $25,250 in debt that year, according to NPR.

Last month, ABC reported that universities across the country were opening food pantries for students, because so many could not afford to buy their own food.

Among those universities were Bakersfield College in California and University of California-Davis.

By  |  10:25 AM ET, 03/06/2012

Tags:  National, higher education, protests, budget cuts

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company