Californians Join Hands to Help Community Colleges

SAN FRANCISCO Community college supporters across California joined hands Sunday to raise awareness and scholarship money for students struggling to pay for college.

Organizers of Hands Across California say the statewide event is expected to be among the largest fundraising events in higher education.

Tens of thousands of participants joined hands to create human chains across at least 53 of California’s 112 community colleges. Many campuses also are planning rallies, fairs and performances.

About 130 people, many of them seniors who said they attended continuing education classes at community colleges, held hands in a chain near City College of San Francisco’s downtown campus, forming a chain that was about a city block in length. Some wore yellow shirts that read, “No Cutbacks.”

Dennis Tan, 21, a freshman at City College of San Francisco majoring in business, came to the United States from China about a year and a half ago and wants to eventually go to a four-year school.

“I’m a new immigrant, so I can learn a lot from City College,” he said. “Language skills, communication skills, writing skills, computer skills.”

Tan said he has received a scholarship and is currently on financial aid.

“A lot of the students at City College like me are struggling, doing part-time jobs,” said Jeffrey Fang, 29, a student trustee at City College who helped organize the event. “We come here because the quality of the education is high and the fact that it’s really cheap.”

Hands Across California is aimed at raising money for the California Community College Scholarship Endowment. Supporters will be able to donate money online or by texting with their mobile phones.

Sunday’s event was inspired by Hands Across America, when an estimated 6.5 million people joined hands across the country to raise money to combat hunger and homelessness 25 years ago.

Community college advocates got help putting together Hands Across California from Ken Kragen, best known for organizing the Hands Across America, NetAid and We Are the World fundraisers.

Hands Across California is being staged as California’s public universities and colleges face deep cuts in state funding as state lawmakers struggle to address the state’s massive budget deficit.

The University of California and California State University systems each stand to lose $500 million and possibly much more if the state doesn’t extend temporary tax increases as Gov. Jerry Brown proposes.

Under Brown’s plan, the community college system would lose $400 million, a 7 percent budget cut and student fees would rise 40 percent to $36 per unit. Officials say that reduction would result in about 400,000 students not being able to get the classes they need.

The two-year colleges face much deeper cuts and possibly larger fee hikes if the governor’s budget plan doesn’t pan out.