The undocumented student from Peru recounted a gloomy tale: She had to quit UCLA this fall because her family fell on hard times. She needed to earn enough money to re-enroll in her political science courses.
On Sunday, 18-year-old Sofia Campos stood in front of hundreds of university students from across the state and asked how she was supposed to finish her studies if tuition keeps rising.
"Tell me," she said, "how I'm supposed to do that. Please!"
Campos was among about 1,000 students who gathered in Bruin Plaza in the center of the Westwood campus to protest Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget cuts to higher education.
The student protesters had been attending the annual Student of Color Conference, which is held each year at a different University of California campus and concentrates on how minority students can succeed in the university system.
The students, who had just finished their two-day conference at UCLA, marched from the campus to the nearby Federal Building outside Westwood Village, where they continued their public appeal.
The governor's proposed cuts, they said, would result in higher tuition, lower enrollment, larger class sizes and fewer student services.
"Students are being shortchanged," David Kirui, 21, a fourth-year undergraduate from UC Berkeley, told the crowd in Bruin Plaza. "We are sick and tired of the budget being balanced on the backs of students."
Schwarzenegger recently recommended a $65-million cut from the $3 billion in state money the UC system expected for the 2008-09 school year.
He also recommended a $66-million midyear cut to the 23-campus California State University system, which has weathered repeated state cuts since at least 2002.
Last week, UC regents threatened to place unspecified limits on freshman enrollment next year if they do not receive adequate government funding, while the California State University system adopted a plan to reduce its 450,000 enrollment by 10,000.
During their protests Sunday, the college students, angry at what they see as narrowing opportunities, chanted messages such as "They say cut back, we say fight back." They carried signs that read "Bail out education" and "Affordable education now."
They said the cuts fall hardest on minority applicants but are damaging to the entire student body.
And they called for a five-year tuition freeze for in-state undergraduates in the UC and CSU systems.
"Rising fees are one of the largest barriers facing low-income and minority students," Lucero Chavez, 23, president of the University of California Students Assn. and a second-year law student from UC Berkeley, said at Bruin Plaza.
"We have to stand against the budget cuts," she said.
"Every year is a tough budget year for students."