Last week, the state of California granted students at Oakland Unity High School and the Life Academy of Health and Bioscience permission to begin collecting signatures for their proposed ballot initiative that aims to completely eliminate tuition and fees from California public universities.
The initiative intends to make attending a UC or CSU free for students who maintain a 2.7 minimum GPA or perform 70 hours of community service annually by raising the personal income taxes of wealthy California citizens to provide revenue to cover universities’ costs. The group, which includes students from both high schools, was inspired to formulate the financial plan during an American government and economics class that raised concerns about the growing cost of higher education and the impact it would have on future classes hoping to attend college.
According to Oakland Unity High social studies teacher Kara Duros, who facilitated the proposal, the impending cost of attending college was creating anxiety amongst the student body. However, Duros said the initiative would not only help college students but also benefit the economy.
“Research shows that it would help California to have more students with degrees. More jobs need college education than not, and there are not enough people to fill those jobs,” Duros said. “The students who made this initiative realized that they would not only benefit themselves, but that they’d also benefit the whole state.”
In order to make the proposed elimination financially plausible, California income taxes would need to be raised by 0.7 percent for the above $250,000 income bracket and 1.7 percent for the above $500,000 bracket. The students will have to garner 807,615 signatures of registered voters by June 21 to have the measure qualify to be placed on the ballot.
First-year undeclared major Abraham Salazar, a 2011 graduate of Oakland Unity High School who participated in the early stages of the proposal, said a college degree is a necessity for today’s job market.
“Today in society we need a higher education. It’s coming to the point where not even a bachelor’s degree is good enough to get a really good job,” Salazar said. “Also, people come from different backgrounds. Not everyone has the money to go to a California university. Some [capable students] just end up going to community college and then dropping out.”
Audrey Westerlund, a first-year physics major, said the initiative could ensure that California public universities are geared toward equal opportunity for all people, regardless of socioeconomic status.
“A majority of us don’t even receive enough financial aid to be able to attend UCs without acquiring a ton of debt,” Westerlund said. “Why call it public school if it’s not even free? We’re basically just paying a grand less than private schools.”
Whatever the proposal’s outcome, Salazar said he will always be grateful for the experience of politically organizing for the public good.
“I feel very proud, regardless of if it passes or not,” Salazar said. “Not many high school students have the chance to do something like this in their lives. I can say that I made an initiative ballot, so I’m really proud of what me and my classmates accomplished.”
The petition can be found at http://collegeforcalifornia.org.