High school students campaign for free in-state tuition in CA

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.

College for California
photo by Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

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.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Gordon Danning

    It’s about time someone put something like this on the ballot. I only wish it covered community college students and part-time students, and that it included some protection in case the revenue raised does not cover current costs.

    Be that as it may, I suggest that the proponents attempt to enlist current UC and CSU students in the signature-gathering effort. I see on the Secretary of State’s website that the deadline is mid-June, which isnt that far away.

  • Nextet

    This is an interesting subject. In what fantasy world does these kids think the taxpayers wish to fund their college playtime during a depression? Are they so confident that Socialism has arrived they expect to be given money from the working families of CA and the CA business & industry?

    It’s one thing for the treasury to be used to provide advanced training for required industry workers. It’s another to provide lifestyle subsidies for adolescents and 30 year olds acting like adolescents to take the classes they feel like taking (liberal arts, ethnic studies, social studies or even worse, law school).

    Some targeted subsidies may gain voter favor. General hand-outs for “students” (such as the 1000+ parolees at my local JC) to lounge around the state schools are now going to be reduced and eliminated. This is how tuition at the state schools have been raised to market levels – the subsidies are being taken away.

    The next step is to close the state schools outright. And don’t think that’s not coming also. People who want liberal arts can get it at private schools, out of state schools, and foreign schools. There is no reason for the treasury of one of the biggest failing states in America to run such programs any more.

    Vocational training up to and including PhDs in industries that have jobs waiting is one thing. Handouts to study basket weaving is another. Raising tuition to market levels is merely a tool to avoid waste. If the degree is not worth the tuition, don’t take the classes. State government can’t print money. The state treasury needs to be conserved to maintain law and order which is also degrading quickly in CA. These students might do better asking for Federal handouts – the feds print all the money they want. They print money to keep diploma mills running as it is.

    Brave New World.

  • Karen Avery

    Why should there be tuition-free higher education? Don’t you think you should pay for your services?
    Those without the money for college have always found ways to pay for it, whether it be a loan or working while in school. My husband did the former and I did the latter. Of course the tuition was much lower, about $1000 for Cal, but you still had to pay for rent, books and food.
    Going to a community college is a great idea as it gets the pesky lower division classes out of the way. You can be working and saving to pay for a UC. No one owes you a free ride though.
    A 2.7 is a really low GPA and not one that would get anyone into UCLA. Maybe your initiative should make that a 3.7 instead. A 2.7 shows that one wasn’t very interested in high school so why should anyone be paying for them to go to college? Why make people pay higher taxes so you can go to college? Maybe they are already paying for their kid or have paid for their kid(s).
    The point is, suck it up-get a loan or job or both,go to community college and support yourself if you want to go to a U.C

  • Nextset

    The community colleges are being turned into ghetto high school 13th grades. As the State College systems collapse we really should try to keep the quality up in what schools remain open.

    The first thing we need to do is to bar the parolees, then maybe the convicted felons and dishonorable discharge military people. The sex offenders – sex registrants – should only be admitted on an exception basis if at all. Or as a compromise (why?) perhaps we should just create these classes of applicants who are only to be admitted on an exception basis.

    I see no reason why 18 year olds – and the high school students 15 and up we now have on JC campuses should be expected to sit next to a refugee from Pelican Bay or San Quentin. Or sit next to a rapist or child sex convict. This is what’s going on now. And the parolees are able to radically affect the operations of all the urban JCs. They mack on the children – and commit crimes at the school and on the students and faculty. They are only there to pick up the money for enrolling and typically don’t “graduate” or complete coursework. They are now an outsized presence in these schools.

    The treasury does not need to be providing classrooms for these undesirables. We don’t want the JCs to go the way of Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified. We want them to function well and be acceptable for decent people to attend.

    Brave New World.

  • J.R.

    The bar is too low, and that encourages mediocrity. Why should people be rewarded for just getting by? Should college be free? Maybe for the very best and brightest, but not for those who just want a place to socialize(like Nextset stated about the near useless in the real world degrees). Let these kids work to pay for their schooling so they can see that there is a connection between hard work and success.