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Is Higher Education Once Again Just Available to the Privileged?

Is Higher Education Once Again Just Available to the Privileged? COMMENTARY By JOE HOOVEN In the summer of 1961 I had to make a hard decision. Graduating Los Angeles High School, I could see a summer of partying, taking short trips in my Impala SS and a promotion from box boy to apprentice clerk waiting for me at Ralphs – all the while having the joy carrying over from participating on our high school football team that played for the city championship. I had been an average student, graduating with a 2.5 grade point average. Yet I had a great desire to learn. My father was a composer-arranger in the music business and my mother a songwriter. There were no college academic or athletic scholarships offered, in fact there wasn’t much in the way of finances to pursue higher education. I figured I’d spend the summer thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. In my mind was the fact that no member of our family had ever graduated college. I yearned to be the first. I knew deep down that I had to pursue higher education. At 18 years, it didn’t matter that I had no idea about a career, that I barely had finances, or that I had no concept of how to study in a higher education atmosphere. At 18 years old, I had parts of a dream, and I had the push. So that’s what I decided in the summer of 1961. I inquired about entry to the University of California system. That’s when I learned about the Donohoe Act, a master plan for higher education passed by our state legislature in 1960. Already the largest college population in the country, California created a tripartite higher education system including community colleges, California State Colleges, and the University of California. Rejected by UC, I researched the community college system. I learned that enrollment in a community college was similar to stepping onto a ladder, step by step upward, leading to a transfer to UC or State. I enrolled at Los Angeles City College. The price was right. Tuition of $2.50 per semester. The only other cost was books. I was in. In September I carefully guided the nose of my Impala into the parking lot at Vermont and Monroe. I walked across Vermont and entered my first class. Sociology 1. I spent 3 years at City College. I attended classes with clerks, cabdrivers, waitresses, security guards, single mothers, gangbangers, and ordinary high school graduates. I finally learned how to study with discipline. I was part of an education system that really works. Community colleges accept people from all walks of life, gives them many chances, and in every case changes their lives forever. It is a system that allows one to climb the ladder upward. Fast forward 42 years to 2003, the state is in the biggest budget crisis in history. We have $38 billion in debt and a new governor. Community college budgets were cut $230 million for the year. There were 200 classes dropped at Los Angeles Valley College, 250 dropped at Pierce, 40 dropped at Mission. Tuition has risen to $18 per unit, up from $11. It’s estimated that 50,000 students will drop out statewide. The question is asked, what happened to affordable education for all? For thousands, community college is the key to social mobility and an escape from limited finances. Community colleges are a successful system of education, but the system must be rebuilt. Joe Hooven is a board member of the Patrons Association of Los Angeles Valley College, Immediate Past President of the Universal City-North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and President of Best Window Treatments Inc., Burbank. Any reader wanting to submit a guest commentary for consideration can call Business Journal Editor Jason Schaff at 818-316-3125 or e-mail him at jschaff@sfvbj.com

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