"With the economy the way it is, I think it's important to have some career alternatives," said Wong, who formerly worked for advertising agencies. "Community college is all we can afford, and even that is getting bad."
The economy also is leading Andrea Lehrer, 29, back to college in search of another career path. A deeply discouraged 1990 graduate of Cal State Northridge with a degree in film production, Lehrer takes sharp issue with those who believe degree holders return to college for enjoyment.
"I never wanted to go back to college at all, and I don't really want to have another career. . . . I want to work, (but) I don't feel I have much choice," said Lehrer, who will attend Pasadena City College this summer. "But if I can get a job, the money I earn will be going into the economy, so I don't understand why everyone wants to make it so hard to go to school. . . . I feel the governor and the legislators don't have any idea who we are."
Ogan, the Riverside student paying the higher fees, said he returned to college to improve his career prospects. It took him several months after his June, 1992, graduation from Cal Poly Pomona to find a job as an editor of a real estate finance publication.
He said he "put up a stink" about the higher fees but went ahead and paid them because "I felt it is only going to get worse."
Ogan added that he saw the need to balance the state's deficit-plagued budget but doing it on the backs of students "is not the way to do it. We're an investment in the state's future, we're the taxpayers of the future."
Myra Mayesh, another student paying the higher fees, said her full-time job as a program coordinator at Santa Monica College enables her to afford the $150 she was assessed for a sociology course she is taking at night, although the sudden, steep increase was not easy to swallow.
"I agree that if it comes down to a choice between people like me and people who are just now starting college, then (those without degrees) ought to get preference," said Mayesh, 31, who earned a bachelor's degree in history from UC Santa Barbara in 1984 and has been taking evening community college courses ever since.
"But I think it's a shame that students are being pitted against one another when the real problem is that higher education is under attack, and (the fee debate) is just another aspect of it."
Mayesh added that she also is troubled by the idea "that you get just one chance at a degree, that you're supposed to be going to college just to get a job and, once you have one, that's it.
"That doesn't fit my philosophy at all."
Community College Fees
The cost of attending community colleges in California could increase again. In the 1991-92 school year, all students paid $6 a credit, with a $60 cap. Here are the current costs and what is proposed:
* Students without college degrees pay $10 a unit. There no longer is a cap; therefore, the cost is $150 a semester for a full course load of 15 credits. Most of those who already hold bachelor's degrees are assessed $50 a credit. Laid-off workers, displaced homemakers and people on welfare can get exemptions from the higher fee.
PROPOSED FOR NEXT YEAR
* Gov. Pete Wilson wants fees for undergraduates to rise to as much as $30 per credit; he wants to authorize local college districts to assess students with bachelor's degrees for the full cost of instruction, about $105 per credit.
* A Senate fiscal committee wants to raise fees for undergraduates to $12 per credit but keep the same $50-a-credit charge for students with bachelor's degrees.
* An Assembly fiscal committee wants to keep the fees for both groups the same as this year--$10 per credit for undergraduates and $50 per credit for most holders of four-year degrees.