I want to share a story with you. This is a story about how community colleges and higher education saved my life.
I am honored to be your elected state assembly member for the 35th District, but it very easily could have turned out differently for me.
I was a high school dropout. I didn’t understand at the time how it would affect my future. I wanted to work. I wanted to surf. I wanted to get on with my life.
What I discovered very quickly, however, was that the real world isn’t very kind to high school dropouts. So I enrolled at Santa Barbara City College. My dad had moved out of the area to pursue a job, but I decided that I wanted to stay because this was my home. I lived in my car for six months and couch-surfed while attending classes. I didn’t know where I was headed, but I knew I was going somewhere.
At SBCC, I met two political science professors who changed my life. They helped direct me. They helped me understand that I had a purpose in life – as long as I hunkered down, focused, and worked hard.
The only reason I was able to go to school back in 1993 was because college was affordable. My family did not have a lot of money. My experience at Santa Barbara City College turned my eyes on to what is possible through hard work and educational opportunities. What would have happened to me had I not enrolled in Santa Barbara City College? Who knows.
But I did, and instead of who-knows-what, I transferred to UC Berkeley where I received a degree in political science, and eventually a master’s degree in environmental studies at UCSB.
For every story like mine, there are tens-of-thousands of other people with even greater struggles who were able to turn their lives around through affordable educational opportunities.
Times have changed, however. State cuts to education have unfortunately closed doors for many people looking for opportunities. Fees are too high and fewer classes are available. We will not be able to meet the demands of the next generation’s workforce if more and more people are being priced out of education.
This is why I introduced AB 2442, which would create the first-ever dedicated revenue source for higher education in the state.
The bill would establish the California Hope Public Trust, aimed to manage state-owned properties deemed suitable for development. The goal would be to lease or sell those properties to earn revenue for the University of California (UC), the California State University (CSU) and California Community College Systems.
We must find a way to restore an investment in our state’s core product – a well-educated workforce. According to a recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California, our state’s education system is not keeping up with changing demand.
Estimates indicate a shortfall of about a million skilled college graduates by 2023 as the economy will increasingly demand more highly educated workers.
A world-class higher education system is one of the drivers of our state’s economy, but the financial carnage that these systems have experienced has put us in a bad place. Regardless of your politics, we can all agree that colleges and universities are a place where we can learn and create our destinies.
If we want a prosperous local economy, investment in our higher education system is vital.
You can help:
Please ask Gov. Jerry Brown to sign AB 2442.
Governor Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160
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Das Williams is a former Santa Barbara City Council member and current California State Assembly member representing the 35th District. He chairs the Assembly Higher Education Committee.