GUEST OPINION: Prop. 38 deserves an 'incomplete'
Published: Friday, October 19, 2012 at 5:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 19, 2012 at 5:37 p.m.
After having served as president of Santa Rosa Junior College for the past 10 months, I have come to quickly realize and appreciate how truly important SRJC is to Sonoma County. Since the college's founding 94 years ago, SRJC has continuously provided quality instruction, student services and a pathway to prosperity for thousands of our students.
Consider this: 75 percent of all Sonoma County high school graduates who attend college will attend the JC.
I'm amazed when speaking to Rotary clubs, Kiwanis groups, chambers of commerce and other Sonoma County audiences and I ask, “How many of you or your family members have attended SRJC?” Virtually all of the hands in the audience are raised. My response is, “All of you turned out alright!”
The college's unwavering commitment to deliver quality education to Sonoma County residents is now being threatened by staggering state budget cuts. SRJC has experienced a 12 percent reduction in permanent funding since 2009, and if Proposition 30 does not pass on Nov. 6, SRJC will be facing an additional $6.3 million reduction, equivalent to another 8 percent reduction to our general fund budget. This will mean an estimated 530 class sections eliminated and 2,920 students who will be shut out of classes.
Our college community has made personal sacrifices during these difficult budget times. Administrators, faculty and staff have taken cuts in salary and benefits. We have implemented a re-engineering program to help cover vacant positions, decreasing our workforce size while still staffing the most critical jobs. SRJC has been forced to reduce course offerings for older adults and has had to cut classes by 25 percent in the last three years.
It distresses me to hear this semester from students that a lottery was held to see who would be asked to leave a math or a biology class because students were sitting on the floor and overflowing into the hallways.
Sonoma County employers notice the clogging of the pipeline for our future workers. The Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce's BEST (Building Economic Success Together) program recently surveyed more than 100 employers and their No. 1 concern was to find qualified trained workers to fill positions in their companies. All of us working toward an economic recovery should be concerned if we are increasingly unable to provide residents with the educational access they desire and deserve.
My response to those who question whether one needs a college degree during these uncertain economic times is to cite a recent study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. It found the unemployment rate for high school graduates is 24 percent and the unemployment rate for recent college graduates is 7 percent.
I want our current students to have the same opportunity that previous generations had to benefit from an SRJC education. A generation ago, America led the world in college completion rates, and today we rank 16th. When asked what is unique about SRJC, I often respond that the children of farm owners go to school with the children of farmworkers. Community Colleges are the great equalizer.
At a recent Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce meeting, I was asked about the difference between Proposition 30 and Proposition 38. I responded by saying that Proposition 38 only supports pre-K and K-12 programs. Because Proposition 38 provides no support to higher education, as a funding solution for California's schools, I would have to give Proposition 38 a grade of “incomplete.” If Proposition 38 prevails, where will high school seniors go after community colleges, CSU and UC have their budgets slashed further?
The SRJC Board of Trustees, The Press Democrat and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce have all endorsed Proposition 30. Let's invest in the entire educational pipeline for the future benefit of all of Sonoma County.
Frank Chong is president of Santa Rosa Junior College.
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