I recently ran across an article from the Weekly News Review, featuring a story "education for all is goal of nation" from Nov. 6, 1939. There are many similarities in the article that relate to California's higher education today.
Then: The article boasts of achievements where the nation's youth "in increasing numbers are spending more time with their education." Having education "means increased opportunities to succeed in life," an increased chance at enjoying life as an American, and "raises of our standard of living."
Now: The colleges of the Yosemite Community College District (Modesto Junior College and Columbia College) consistently enroll more than 20,000 full-time equivalent students and work to serve the community's social and economic needs. Our colleges provide excellent career and technical education programs preparing students to enter the work force and meet on-the-job demands.
Then: "A serious problem remains," the 1939 article goes on to say. It reports that students "are denied the privilege which Americans have a right to expect.
They are denied contact with influences which make for a better living. They do not have as great opportunities to find suitable occupations and to prepare for successful lifework
" Not only does the student suffer, but so do "the communities in which they live, and so does the nation." The objective was to ensure access to education for all who desired it.
Now: Seventy-three years later, we have a serious impediment to ensuring access to higher education. Recent budget cuts, unemployment, rising costs and limited enrollment in public four-year universities have skyrocketed the demand for community college. The state Legislature's response to this demand is limiting supply, cutting budgets further, and forcing colleges to constrict by eliminating classes, thus denying access to higher education.
By limiting access and funding, reducing the depth and breadth of courses and training opportunities for students and the community, the Legislature's thinking in 2012 is less advanced than 1939 with respect to the value of education. This predicament the Legislature and governor jointly put us in pins the students' hopes on passing a proposition or suffering further drastic cuts. Proposition 30 is a short-term remedy that buys time for a long-term solution to higher education.
Then: To the audience in 1939, education was meant to lead citizens who would be "more tolerant, more open-minded, more anxious to discover the truth and follow its lead." Further, ensuring access to education "may mean more to the permanent success of democracy than anything else which is happening in the world today."
Now: Our colleges and students cannot suffer additional deep cuts while maintaining to keep our economy strong for the next generation. The impact of legislative decisions on the YCCD has resulted in the following:
570 course sections reduced in the last five years (a 24 percent cut)
284 course offerings reduced in the last five years (a 24.6 percent cut)
Employees eliminated (16 percent of classified staff, 12.5 percent of administrators and 12.5 percent of faculty) in the last four years
The result is state funded full-time equivalent students reduced by 10.3 percent. That is, 1,843 full-time equivalent students were denied access to higher education in our two colleges over the last three years. At one point (Fall 2012), the YCCD had more than 16,000 students on waiting lists.
The what ifs?
Proposition 30 on the November ballot is important to students, businesses and the California economy. Although it doesn't restore funding to pre-cut levels, it does stop the bleeding of any further cuts.
If Proposition 30 passes, our colleges will only be able to maintain status quo, continuing to identify productive ways to increase efficiencies, as we are currently limited in our ability to grow.
If Proposition 30 doesn't pass, the YCCD would cut an additional $5.3 million mid-year, meaning 390 more sections considered for cancellation; the result would see reduction of an additional 1,165 state-funded full-time equivalent students in the present year, making the total reduction of 3,008 students over the past four years.
The 1939 solution? Offer "more courses" and provide "training which suits the needs" of the community, furthering future generations.
The 2012 solution? Proposition 30 is the only measure on the November ballot that will protect current access to higher education and prevent further devastating cuts.
What a great way to celebrate American Education Week (Nov. 11-17) and the anniversary of a 73-year old article that reminds us that "bringing out the best in each individual" is what education is all about.
Smith is chancellor of the Yosemite Community College District.