Sierra College students descend on the capitol by the busload

Students attended the March in March to protest fee hikes
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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SACRAMENTO — With signs waving, feet marching and their voices raised high; Sierra College students were among thousands of other students from all over California who descended upon the state capitol Monday to protest the rising costs of higher education. “If I don’t like paying so much, why would I stay home?” said Colby Lunsford, a student Sierra College student from Auburn, when asked why he attended the protest. “Then I would just be a hypocrite.” Lunsford and others say this year’s March in March was even more necessary than ever before because of trigger cuts enacted by Governor Jerry Brown in December. Those triggers raised fees to $46 per unit, made income restrictions for the Board of Governors Fee Waivers stricter and cut funding to California community colleges by $102 million. In addition, the budgets for the University of California System and California State University system were each cut by $100 million. Some students say they are struggling to pay for school and aren’t able to graduate on time because of cuts in classes. Some professors say they attended the event to support their students, while Sierra College administrators said they hope their students’ advocacy will result in more funding for California colleges. Should higher taxes fund public education? Billie Williams, 43, of Auburn, is a student senator at Sierra College. The associated student body funded a bus for students who wanted to make their voices heard at the protest. “I know that at Sierra College we have an $8 million deficit. We already cut classes at 4.6 percent and we are probably going to do that for next year, too. We are losing people,” Williams said. “We are losing full-time and part-time people that can’t afford to pay for it anymore.” Williams said she is among other students who are advocating for an increase in sales tax in Placer County, as well as an increase in taxes on oil exports in California to fund education. She said the revenue raised from the taxes would be used to fund public K-12 and higher education. Claudia Taylor, NorCal Tea Party Patriot, was a teacher for 37 years, but said she disagrees with the idea that the rich should fund education. “If everyone paid taxes instead of taking from the system, there wouldn’t be this problem. We have tried to allow government to solve all our problems and mathematically it’s never going to be possible to do that. When you do that you squeeze the productivity of the goose that lays the golden egg so to speak,” Taylor said. “I used to be a high school teacher for 37 and a half years. I wrote grants. I knew about the funding procedures. I didn’t see a whole lot of improvement in all those years we got money.” Taylor said she recently read a study that showed the negative impact federal control has had on education. “The conclusion was ever since the Department of Education has been developed our fees for education have gone up, improvement in the education system has not really happened, if anything it has gotten a little worse,” Taylor said. Class cuts impact graduation time frame Shelby Thomas, 19, of Lincoln, said she isn’t able to graduate on schedule from Sierra College because many of the classes she needs were cut. “I am sociology major and because they have cut so many sociology sections I’m not going to be able to graduate until December,” Thomas said. “I have been doing over full-time, even summer, ever since I started when I was 18. I have been fighting to finish school. I work three jobs. I live on my own.” Thomas said she believes education is supposed to be free. “Education is supposed to be free in California according to the state constitution,” Thomas said. Josena Aillo, 51, of Auburn, a Sierra College student and naturalist at the Placer County Nature Center, said she believes education needs to become a higher priority for California lawmakers. “I certainly would like to see education become second priority under the environment anyway, without these two things why bother to go on?” Aillo said. “When I started college in 1978 community college was free.” Aillo said while things may have changed and the state may not be able to afford to send students to community college for free, education should be accessible to everyone. Campus professors, staff and leaders weigh in Jennifer Kattman, Sierra College sociology professor, attended the protest with many of her students. She said two upcoming ballot initiatives, a half a percent increase in sales tax and higher taxes on wealthy California residents, would be two ways for the deficit in higher education to be reduced. “I am here to support my students’ desire for a free, if not affordable, education. It think that it’s up to us educators to educate them about their rights and to educate them about the history of education in California, as well as what they should be entitled to as citizens today,” Kattman said. Sue Michaels, Sierra College spokesperson said she believes the students will make a difference in getting through to legislators. “At Sierra we are very proud that our students are participating in the March in March. We believe their efforts will help legislators understand the importance of funding higher education. Right now is the time when California should be investing in higher education. An educated workforce is key to the state’s recovery. I believe the advocacy efforts of our active and engaged Student Senate at Sierra will truly make a difference.” Sierra College Associated Student Body President Andrew Nelson said he hopes to send the legislature and voters a message. “I know a lot of students have on their mind the fees going up to $46 a unit from $36,” Nelson said. “I think that is one of the focal points this year, but March in March has been going on for awhile. In one way I hope it doesn’t have to go on. I hope the legislature and citizens recognize, and the voters recognize, that this is important and we don’t have to do this.” Reach Sara Seyydin at