Monica Mendoza, a 2011 graduate of Oakland’s Life Academy and a student at Hayward’s Chabot College, wrote the below piece about a ballot initiative she helped to write. College for California would make state universities free for most full-time, in-state students. The initiative still needs more than 800,000 signatures to qualify for a future ballot. We just posted this story on the effort — and on volunteer-based ballot initiatives in general.
It all started with a lesson that our math teacher Mr. B (Boettner) had given us during the fall semester of our senior year. We’d just finished completing our college applications. The next thing on our minds was how were we going to pay for college? He gave us a lesson on college tuition and how much it had increased throughout the years. It was astounding seeing the huge difference in tuition between the 1970s and now.
I know personally it had me worried. I was worried because my family is low income. Our income is about $12,900, lower than tuition at a UC. I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to pay for everything without having to get loans. I knew my parents were also worried about how they’d be able to help me as well. It was all really scary, especially being the first one in my family to go to college and not having anybody else in my family that I’d be able to look up to or ask for help.
Mr. B had then asked if a couple of students would be interested in being leaders in creating a ballot initiative. I was interested in it already so I decided to get involved.
In government class, Mr. Kolluri had then made the ballot initiative as a project. We were all divided into groups to come up with the ballot initiative. We had to consider who was eligible, what were the requirements and how this proposal be funded. After each group came up with their own proposals we presented to the rest of the class our proposals. We came up with a consensus about our final draft of our initiative. Students that are eligible for tuition-free education need to maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.7 or perform 70 hours of community service. The initiative would be funded by increasing the state income tax rate from 9.3% to 10% for individuals making over $250,000 and to 11% for individuals making greater than $500,000.
After coming up with our final draft we had it checked and revised by an attorney general before sending it to Sacramento and getting approved to collect signatures. During this whole process my class had already graduated and we were all off to college already. I decided to attend Chabot College because I’d save more money this way. Not only was I saving money, but I still wanted to pursue my goal of getting into my dream school UCLA. I could’ve attended Humboldt State or San Francisco State, but with tuition increase and still wanting to get into UCLA, I felt community college was my best choice.
The core group of leaders that were involved from when this initiative was just an idea are still greatly involved even though a lot of them attend universities in different parts of California. We now have more leaders, like this year’s Life Academy and Unity High senior classes. Now it’s just a matter of collecting signatures and spreading the word in hope that one day college will be accessible for everybody.