A town hall on college affordability was hosted by California Assembly Member Tony Thurmond at Eleanor Roosevelt College on Thursday, Oct. 4. The event was co-sponsored by UCSD College Democrats.
Thurmond, who is currently running to be California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the top elected position for an education official, said that he “wanted to hear from students directly.”
“What I’d like to do is invite students at all our institutions to work with me on legislation that I can sponsor for next year to address affordability,” Thurmond said. “I believe that listening to our students is important as a superintendent. I intend to lead and govern that way.”
The town hall featured a panel of various student leaders and officials in California education and administration. Among the panel was Caroline Siegel-Singh, statewide UC student senator and A.S. vice president of external affairs. Also representing UC San Diego on the panel was Patty Mahaffee, assistant vice chancellor of student life, and Alicia Magallanes, member of the Basic Needs Committee.
The conversation at the town hall addressed a broad variety of issues facing students, but a few recurring talking points included tuition costs, housing and food insecurity, and mental well-being.
Michael Wiafe, A.S. vice president of external relations at San Diego State University, who also participated in the panel, said that the focus should be on “holistic review.”
“There’s a lot more that goes into a college student than just tuition,” Wiafe said. “There’s the classes you take, the food you eat, where you live, everything else that surrounds your living situation.”
“I’m open to all kinds of creative solutions,” Thurmond said, “but I’m not willing to accept that we will tell students that ‘you can just be homeless and hungry, and that’s just the way it is.’”
Siegel-Singh, in her discussion of housing insecurity, pointed out that for students, these issues are aggravated because they are “much more vulnerable.”
“The issue of homelessness mirrors that in our communities,” Thurmond said. “We’re seeing a rise in homelessness, and people spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing. There’s an opportunity for cities to work with universities to build shared, affordable housing for students and working members of the community.”
As Thurmond had stated earlier in the evening, “Eleven percent of students at the [California State University system] have reported being homeless at least once. About 42 percent of students at the CSU have reported experiencing food insecurity, and I’ve heard that the number is up to fifty percent at the UC, and about forty percent at community colleges. 5 percent homeless at the UC, 11 percent at the CSU and 25 percent at community colleges. I’m sure that’s understated and we need to do better at identifying that.”
“Right now as it stands,” Seigel-Singh said, “students contribute more to the University of California’s core budget than the state of California does.”
According to a UC budgets summary, the largest source of general funds for the UC is Non-resident Supplemental Tuition.
Thurmond responded to Seigel-Singh, stating, “That’s an embarrassment. That’s a trend that we have to reverse.”
Hannah Holder, news editor for The California Aggie at UC Davis, asked about the salary increases for top UC officials while contract negotiations have stalled for union workers.
Thurmond was critical of the UC system’s hidden accounts turned up in a recent audit, as well as the practice of subcontracting labor.
“It’s outrageous,” Thurmond said in his reply to Holder’s question. “I’ve said directly to [UC President Janet] Napolitano, ‘You don’t cut people’s salaries and then give huge balloon payments to administrators.’ Where I come from, when you experience tough times, that means that everybody experiences tough times.”
“We’re closely aligned with the folks at [American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees] 3299. The UC [system] continues to contract out jobs, which ends up costing [it] more. Those savings to keep services in-house could be used to offset the cost for students. I’ll continue to take the stance against contracting out labor.”
Throughout the evening, Thurmond encouraged students to email his campaign with ideas and suggestions to address the various issues laid out in the town hall.
“I don’t want this to be a one-time conversation but an ongoing conversation about what we can change,” Thurmond said.
Readers can send their suggestions to [email protected].
Thurmond is endorsed by California Senator Kamala Harris, the California Democratic Party, and California’s teachers, nurses, and firefighters. If elected to be state superintendent, Thurmond would serve on both the CSU Board of Trustees as well as the UC Board of Regents.