March for higher ed gathers thousands

Carrying signs that proclaimed monetary woes and education reform, thousands of college students convened on the State Capitol steps Monday morning to conclude this year’s March in March protest.

Members of Santa Monica College’s Associated Students joined the March to Advocate and Reclaim California's Higher Education, from Raley Field to the Capitol building, where students from all levels of California’s public higher education system joined in chants, shouts and cries for reform.

A charter bus carried more than 35 SMC students to the state capital.

Students from the California Community College, California State University and University of California systems gathered on the steps of the Capitol building to lobby the legislature about the problems facing higher education.

“I think this is both a moment where we get to visually and experientially show our legislature just how much our education means,” said Rich Copenhagen, president of the Student Senate of California Community Colleges, the body that organized the protest.

With numbers down compared to previous years, Copenhagen noted that certain schools had different priorities.

“There are a lot of different issues that we face this year,” he said.

A major bone of contention during the protest was the governor's proposed budget, which includes a widely opposed 90-unit cap. The cap would prevent students from receiving the Board of Governor's fee waiver after the completion of 90 units, effectively requiring students to pay full price for classes.

“It is a very short-sided policy that doesn’t legitimitaly address the issues I hope the governor is trying to add,” said Copenhagen.

One of the speakers, fifth-year Chico State student Ian Ruddell, called the cap "elitist," and asked for more course sections. He was met with shouts of agreement from the crowd.

Performance-based funding and the return of the two-tier system was also brought into the spotlight during the protest.

“The lobbying aspect of the march is very important,” said Yacob Zuriaw, AS director of financial support and student advocacy. Zuriaw, along with other SMC students, met with assembly members Das Williams and Richard Bloom later that day to discuss and ask for their votes against the proposed budget.

"Das Williams said he doesn't like [the budget] as it stands," Zuriaw said.

Also mentioned during one of the meetings was a proposed penalty of $20 for students who drop classes after the period for adding classes is over.

Marchers met statewide educational leaders on the steps of the Capitol building for a series of speeches that riled the crowd.

“I wanted to see the student activism after the fact that Prop. 30 passed,” said AS President Parker Jean, who set up a meeting with assemblyman and former Santa Monica mayor Richard Bloom. “I didn’t want everyone to go back to sleep and pretend that everything was OK. That was simply a bandaid on a gushing wound.”

Parker hopes to see an oil severance tax.

Colleges from across California came to support the movement, including the San Bernardino Community College District, which brought five buses between San Bernardino Valley College and Crafton Hills college, totaling at least 120 students.

“It’s all about awareness,” said Mary Valdemar, financial aid staff at SBVC. She has attended March in March since its initiation six years ago.

“California colleges are supposed to be free,” she said. SBVC came to fight for the “ongoing fight for higher education.”

Shaaron Vogel, vice president of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, said her concerns lay with the 90-unit cap, as well as online education, which she thought did not work well for students.

"I wish there would have been a larger crowd, but the ones that are here are so focused and have such a purpose and know what they need and want to get their education," she said. "That meets needs."

“We’re all really here to get educated,” said Jean. “That's what matters most. We need to protect that.“