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Armed with signs, chants, and a desire to be able to continue their education, a group of Southwestern College students, faculty, and staff joined thousands of other community college students in Sacramento and San Diego to protest the proposed budget cuts and “keep the doors open.”

Students, faculty, staff, and administrators gathered at a park in West Sacramento, marched to the Capitol and rallied against the disproportionate budget cutbacks, layoffs, and massive fee increases community colleges will have to incur if the proposed budget is approved.

At the Capitol steps, March in March participants outlined the harm the cuts will have on students at the state’s 108 community colleges. The Governor’s budget also proposes the most significant fee raise in the history of the state’s community colleges, increasing fees from $11 to $24 per unit.

“These budget cuts are affecting students. We want to make our voices count,” said Lizbeth Pacheco, a Southwestern College student and a member of the group of 24 students, faculty, and staff representing Southwestern College in the march in Sacramento. “Southwestern College is the lowest funded, but our students count. We’re not just a statistic. We’re real people.”

Southwestern College Associated Student Organization (ASO) president, Robert Williams, believes the proposed budget is “not considerate of people’s livelihoods.”

“Students are outraged by the more than 100 percent fee increase that is being proposed,” said Williams. That’s why the group decided to get involved and join thousands of other community college students, professors, and administrators in Sacramento.

Southwestern College political science professor, Alma Aguilar marched right along with the students. She was not only representing the College, but also the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges.

“We went to present an accurate picture of how the budget cuts are going to impact our students,” said Aguilar. “We went to encourage them (state legislators) to look out for our needs. Community colleges play a very important role. We serve a greater diversity and a greater number of students,” added the professor.

In San Diego, another group of Southwestern College students, faculty, and administrators joined hundreds of students and colleagues from local community colleges in a rally and demonstration against the budget cuts. Governor Gray Davis’ budget proposal for the 2003-2004 school year calls for a 2.4 percent increase for the University of California system and a 4.5 percent increase for the California State University. On the other hand, in addition to higher student fees, community colleges in California would face a 7.4 reduction in funding.

Gathered in front of San Diego City College, the group denounced the disproportionate cuts to community college budgets and the Governor’s proposal to increase fees.

“Mr. Davis: This is unacceptable and we’re not going to take it,” screamed Norma L. Hernández, interim superintendent/president for Southwestern College.

San Diego City College president, Augie Gallegos, called the disproportionate reductions “unfair” and a “disrespect to community colleges.”

“We are a very important part of the educational process…We are the economy of San Diego County…We prepare the workforce for this county. The proposed budget cuts are unfair,” stated Gallegos.

For his part, Southwestern College student Gonzalo Quintero urged students to “fight back” because “we’re going to be the leaders of tomorrow.”

Immediately following the rally, the group marched to Governor Gray Davis’ office in San Diego, 1350 Front Street, chanting slogans such as “One, two, three four. Save our college, cut no more” and “Education, not incarceration.”

The budget cuts are expected to deny access to education to more than 200,000 community college students in the fall of 2003, according to the Community College League of California.

For Southwestern College, the proposed budget would mean a $4.5 million reduction in mid-year cuts and additional cut of $6.3 million during school year 2003-2004.

Established in 1961, Southwestern College is one of 108 public community colleges in the state of California and is the only institution of higher education located in the southern portion of San Diego County. Southwestern College employs over 1,200 faculty and staff, serves more than 19,000 students and offers Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees in 139 majors; Vocational Certificates in 123 areas of study; and a host of non-credit courses ideal for personal and professional development.

Southwestern College benefits the entire community. In addition to the 19,000 students enrolled at the College, 12,000 more enhance their skills and increase their earning potential through Southwestern College’s Continuing Education Program. Furthermore, more than 125,000 businesses, residents and community organizations use the College’s facilities.