Monday's "Pound the Pavement for Education: March in March" rally at the state Capitol sent exactly the right message to California lawmakers. Whether they're listening remains to be seen.
Student government representatives from the California Community College, California State University and University of California systems converged on the Capitol Mall to direct attention to funding for higher education. Tuition has nearly doubled at California's public universities and colleges over the past five years due primarily to budgets cuts of $2.7 billion since 2007-08. Course offerings have been cut as well, making it all the more difficult for students to finish in four years.
How bad is it? The San Jose Mercury News reports that Harvard, Princeton and Yale, among others, are now cheaper for middle-class students than Cal State East Bay -- and the stunning comparison undoubtedly applies elsewhere. Top private schools, which typically offer generous aid packages for poorer students, have now become more affordable than California's public universities for middle-class students as well.
One of the placards carried by the demonstrators Monday at the Capitol, according to The Sacramento Bee, appropriately summarized what's at stake: "Education is our greatest economic investment." Another read: "This is not charity. We're talking about a return on investment!"
And we are. An educated workforce, not overly burdened by college debt, is California's best chance for mid- and long-term economic rejuvenation and a return to international competitiveness. But higher education has taken a disproportionately vigorous beating in the budget wars of the past three years. It's time to right the ship and restore higher education to its rightful place of importance, but Kern County legislators must get on board.