California State University students and faculty are protesting state budget cuts that could lead to higher tuition, larger class sizes and lower enrollment.
More than 100 faculty members, students and staff have occupied a building at the university's Sacramento campus, and about 100 counterparts on the Long Beach campus marched to an administration building that had already been closed down as a precaution.
The Sacramento rally began early Wednesday afternoon with more than 600 protesters, who blamed CSU Chancellor Charles Reed for not doing enough to oppose cuts California lawmakers are using to close the state's $26.6 billion budget deficit. The protestors marched from the school's library quad to an administrative building to present a set of petitions.
College students and faculty in California and other states on Wednesday planned to protest state budget cuts to higher education that could lead to higher tuition, larger class sizes and lower enrollment.
Rallies, marches and teach-ins were scheduled at all 23 California State University campuses.
Similar events are planned at campuses in Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and other states where legislators are slashing education spending to close huge budget shortfalls.
In California, deep budget cuts during the height of the recession two years ago led to sharp tuition hikes, employee furloughs, course cutbacks and reduced enrollment at the CSU and University of California systems.
The state restored some of that funding last year, but California's public colleges and universities face another round of painful cuts as Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature seek to close another massive budget deficit.
"We've been carving away and carving away and carving away," said Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association, which is working with students and employees to organize the demonstrations. "The path we are on is almost suicidal for the state."
UC and CSU would lose $500 million under the governor's budget proposal, but his plan depends on voters approving temporary increases in sales, vehicle and personal income taxes. So far, Brown hasn't secured the Republican support needed to hold a special election to even allow a vote on the tax question.
Without that tax revenue, the state's public colleges and universities could see much deeper cuts, which could lead to soaring tuition bills, fewer undergraduate seats and other drastic measures.
Faculty leaders say the cuts threaten to reduce student access to Cal State, sometimes called the People's University, which serves large numbers of low-income students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college.
Jason Pinzon, a 19-year-old freshman at California State University, Long Beach, said the more than $4,000 in fees he pays each year makes it difficult to cover his expenses.
"This semester I just barely had enough for my books," Pinzon said.
Faculty members say the younger generation is being cheated out of the kind of education that they received in California - and that enabled them to pursue their careers.
Taiz said she is the prime example. She was a mother of two children and on welfare when she went to school and became a history professor.
"This is an investment," she said. "It has made us the envy of the world."
Associated Press writer Terry Chea in in San Francisco contributed to this report.
© 2011 The Associated Press.