The first time I tried to visit the cafeteria at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, it was closed and barred by a metal gate. It looked like the shuttered stores of blighted areas, ripples of the recession, of which the economically disenfranchised continue to feel. It was the beginning of my journey through higher education; I was halfway through my first day. I had just finished morning water polo practice and two morning classes. I didn’t have time to run off campus. I was due at my next class soon, and after that, a second rigorous practice. For weeks while the cafeteria was closed, I had to skip lunch. I know from firsthand experience how incredibly challenging it is to be a successful student on an empty stomach.
At a time when fifty percent of California Community College students identified as food insecure in the prior 30 days, the rising crisis of a lack of affordable housing has exacerbated student homelessness, and financial aid doesn’t cover the true cost of attending college, completing a certificate or associate’s degree can seem like a distant dream.
Inspired by that metal gate, I began to advocate for basic needs reform in the California Community College system. Turns out, the cafeteria lost a substantial amount of money. In fact, almost every junior college across the state loses money on their cafeteria. Reasons vary, but at San Joaquin Delta College, a combination of a lack of full-time employees and modern equipment made the sustainability of the cafeteria near impossible.
And basic needs reform is one of a plethora of exponentially important movements within higher education. Many students lack access to mental health services. Infrastructure around the system has begun to show its age and is in strong need of investment. Colleges lack the proper support services for students to succeed. The list goes on.
The American dream, a promise of a better life achieved through hard work and grit, has become obscured. And yet, the California Community College system ranks among the best examples of that dream alive and well. It represents a place where the top 100% of people are accepted, all with different paths- but with the same hope that spurs us all to better lives for ourselves and family. Investing in this system, and more broadly in all forms of education, will help to preserve that holy American promise.
In March of 2020, California voters will decide whether or not to do so. Proposition 13 authorizes a $15 billion bond to reinvest in our systems of education. The California Community Colleges would receive a necessary $2 billion to address, among many other issues,
the aforementioned infrastructure problems. The UC and CSU systems would also receive $2 billion each to address similar problems.
The remaining $9 billion will be invested into K-12 institutions across the state. An Ed Source article written by Dick Ackerman, a former California State Senator and Assembly member, and Mel Levine, former U.S. Congressman and Assembly member, entitled “California must invest in improving facilities for higher education” states the following:
“Across the state, millions of younger students attend classes in rundown, obsolete, unsafe, and unhealthy facilities, which can harm their education and their health. Californians will have an opportunity to protect the health and safety of the state’s students by voting in favor of a bond measure on the March 3 ballot.” The 2008 recession played a large role in the decline of these facilities. Now comes a chance to reverse that degradation.
That’s why I’ve joined the bipartisan California Coalition for Public Higher Education alongside millions of Californians in support of this $15 billion bond measure. Prop. 13 will
provide desperately needed new funds to protect the health and safety of California students in higher education and in pre-school to grade 12. It places a priority on fixing earthquake, fire, and other life safety issues.
A yes vote on Proposition 13 boils down to this: our systems of education will receive the resources to finally renew California’s worldwide hegemony in public education. As a result, pursuing a better life through our systems of education will remain an honest promise. A promise that will illuminate paths for millions of Californians, present and future, to a better life.
But again, the wellness of that promise depends on your advocacy and support on March 3. Grab your ballots, go to the polls, and vote YES on Prop. 13. Join me and millions of Californians in the fight to restore the promise of the American Dream.
For more information about Prop.13, please visit yestohighered.org.
Colm Fitzgerald is a second year political science student at Delta College and a member of the California Community College Board of Governors.