Students at Sonoma State are sending a message to the governor that California State University students will no longer stand for the budget cuts resulting in fewer classes and higher tuition — creating financial hardships and often longer graduation times.
Last month, students across California wrote their personal messages and stories on mock $750 million bills, representing both the financial and community crisis at hand.
The bills, held in a clear box, made its way through the 23 CSU campuses and are expected to arrive on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk in April.
The push, called "The Buck Starts Here," has sparked a wave of student protests on campus that are continuing.
“It’s not even sad or depressing that these budget cuts keep happening. It’s flat out disgusting,” said April Lang, a senior history major.
Although Lang is finishing up her undergrad this May, she plans on returning for her credential in the fall, and knows it won’t come cheap. Fee increases have put a greater burden on Lang and her family, and she worries what the future will bring.
“There’s always ways to find money, but things are tough for my family and I currently," she said. "I only have time to work a small part-time job on top of my academic load, and I expect to be in debt for a long time after graduation.”
Students want to raise awareness for the campaign. Statewide Issues Senator Katie Havens said "The Buck Starts Here" event was an overall success. According to her, Sonoma State is a leader in the percentage of campus participation among the schools who have participated so far.
“I would have liked for more people to come out to the rally, but we collected 945 bills total which represents over 10 percent of our population,” said Havens.
Earlier this year, the state of California made $100 million in trigger cuts permanent for the CSU, resulting in $2.3 million in cuts to SSU. If voters reject Jerry Brown’s proposed tax increase in November, there would be a total of $200 million in additional trigger cuts to the CSU system. Currently, SSU faces a potential $4.6 million in cuts this December.
Students like Lang are supportive of ASI and their efforts to make a statement to Governor Brown and the rest of Sacramento in protest of cuts like these.
“As an elected official I don't see how the governor can't pay attention to this. We are the people who elected him. He should be listening to us. Most of us will be working in California in the next ten years, and we need the proper education to fill those jobs,” she said.
Political Science major Andrew Munson was also supportive of the campaign, and was greatly concerned about the implications of continued cuts to education.
“As a political science major it is becoming increasingly worrisome to see that the politicians in our state and our country continue to cut funding for higher education," Munson said. "This not only hurts the future of California but the future of our country and the world as well."
However, others were skeptical of the campaign, and wondered if all of the effort was even worth it.
“I think it’s good and proactive, but campaigns like these are obviously not very effective if we’re still having budget cuts,” said Madeline Friess, a junior Hutchins major.
But the struggles of students at SSU just to fill their schedules are becoming more difficult to ignore. In order to graduate within four years, students typically take an average of 15 units a semester. However due to extreme shortages in classes as well as shrinking class size, many struggle just find the minimum of 12 units needed to be considered a full time student.
For students on financial aid, this is especially devastating. Students receiving aid are required to maintain their status as a full time.
Adam Brody, a student employee in the campus advising center, saw many students at the beginning of the semester desperate for just one or two more units in order to qualify for their aid.
“Students not receiving their financial aid is threatening their entire college careers and their ability to afford attending SSU,” he said.
But when classes are hard to come by, reality is a tough pill to swallow for many SSU students who are forced to take classes they don’t want, and in many cases don’t even need just have enough units.
“Due to budget cuts, classes are being restricted, meaning students have a hard time getting anything they need as far as General Education or even major courses go,” said Brody. “Also, not being able to get the courses they’re actually interested in doesn’t make for very motivated students.”
Havens considers herself lucky. Although she has been fortunate to be able to afford her education despite tuition hikes, and will graduate in four years debt-free, she is not prepared to let the state of the CSU go unchecked.
“I see so much value in education and investing in education. I believe it should not be a privilege, but a right to be able to attend college. Everyone should have access, that’s my motivation,” she said.
Munson recognized that even though things seem fine now, the massive amount of debt that awaits him years down the road is something many students and their families will have to prepare for.
“We are paying more for school and taking out more in student loans; I won't see the effects of that until later down the line," he said. "Depending on my father’s job and if he still has one in the next few years, its hard to say how much these cuts are going to affect me."
Lang was also concerned about the future of not only her debt, but of the rest of the current and future CSU students.
“Student debt for our generation is going to be abominable. It’s insane. People in their 70’s will be paying off student loans,” she said.
The box full of $750 million bills continued on to Humboldt, Chico and Cal Maritime before arriving at Sacramento in March. According to Havens, the meeting with the governor has been rescheduled for April.
Despite the immense obstacles set against them, students remain motivated toward making a difference as well as graduating on time.
Even Friess recognizes the importance of at least trying, even if the end result is less than satisfying.
“It doesn’t hurt, and we certainly aren’t going to make a difference by sitting around doing nothing.”