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Cal State students rally against budget cuts

April 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Students and faculty on college campuses across the state are staging protests to what they say will be devastating state budget cuts to higher education.

California State University students are angry over looming state budget cuts. Students say the cuts put their education in jeopardy.

Northridge students brought their protest to the campus administration building. They had occupied the hallways for most of Wednesday afternoon.

The protest goes beyond students' concerns: faculty and administrators are also concerned about growing pressure. Over the previous five years, CSU Northridge has lost nearly 20 percent of its budget. More cuts are on the horizon.

"It costs me around $25,000 for the whole year," said student Jorge Ramirez.

Ramirez is a biology major aiming for pre-med. But in the Cal State University system it's been one hurdle after another. So Ramirez has to work half-time while carrying 19 units.

"Books and other fees, they come out of my pocket. My family is poor and I can't afford it. So I have to work, and that is affecting my academics," said Ramirez.

California's economy is in a squeeze like never before. Wednesday, students on 23 campuses, including Cal State L.A. and Dominguez Hills joined to protest further cuts to higher education.

Under Gov. Jerry Brown's current proposal, the CSU and University of California systems would lose $500 million. And that plan is dependent on voter approval of temporary tax increases.

As students protest, administrators share the frustration.

"You can't lie about this fact, that you've got less money, you provide less services, and so the students will have the perception that they're getting less bang for the buck," said Cal State University Northridge Provost Harry Hellenbrand.

Already, 250 faculty positions have been cut over the past two years at Northridge. Class offerings are reduced. There are as many as 40 students to a classroom - if they can fit.

"You can't hear, the classes are too big, people just drop out to community college, they can't afford it," said Amanda Barrientos, a student majoring in criminology and biology.

"Our students need mentoring. Our students need one-on-one connections and their faculty just can't see them all," said history professor Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association.

They worry that if these students aren't educated today, California won't have a professional workforce in the future.

"You can balance the budgets right now by not repairing bridges, but in 25 years those bridges are going to fall down," said Hellenbrand.

Another effect of the cuts: It's taking more time to get all the required classes, consequently some students are taking more than six years to graduate.

The average tuition currently for a student in the Cal State system is about $6,000, adding on top of that fees for parking and books. Students said it does get pretty expensive and they are concerned it is going to get more expensive.

Chancellors feel that they have already done their share and have been facing cuts for the past few years. They have been cutting back and raising tuition, and now they are looking at more.

They are looking at $500 million in cuts if Brown's plan does not go through to extend tax measures and increases that were put in place two years ago. The governor wants to extend them for another five years, but it is a tough sell for Republicans and tax payers.

If that doesn't happen they are looking at drastic cuts. The governor threw out some numbers a couple of weeks ago that tuition at University of California schools could cost as much as $20,000 a year.