Budget Deal Leaves Higher Education Short

Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine
Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman is a former California State Senator and Assemblyman, and Levine is a former U.S. Congressman and State Assemblyman.

There is no such thing as a free college education.  When the State doesn’t pay its fair share of the cost of educating students at the University of California and California State University campuses, the cost burden heavily falls on students and their families.  Worse yet, thousands of qualified young Californians are shut out of UC and CSU because of inadequate State funding.

For a few days, it appeared that Sacramento’s budget-makers were on the right track, but the final Budget numbers once again fall short when it comes to higher education funding.  The Joint Legislative Budget Conference Committee had approved the modest “full funding” requests to enable campuses to increase enrollment and avoid further tuition increases. But that decision didn’t survive the chopping block when Governor Jerry Brown and Legislative leaders hammered out a final Budget deal—leaving UC support basically flat and providing CSU with only a limited boost over the Governor’s May proposal.  What additional monies that were provided, relied primarily on one-time funding rather than ongoing support. How can campuses admit four-year students with only one-year funding?

Where does all this leave California’s prized system of public higher education?  For UC it means that tuition hikes can be put off for another year and increased enrollment promises kept for now.  CSU will also do without a tuition boost this new academic year and can continue, in the short term, its effort to accommodate more students and improve graduation rates.  The sad fact is that both systems are left in limbo—able to scrape by for now, but without the ability to plan for the future or expand enrollment significantly.

The Governor has stressed the importance of having a robust “rainy day” fund to prepare for a downturn in the economy.  Well, UC and CSU have been experiencing more than two decades of rainy days.  Per student State support for UC has been cut in half and per student State funding for CSU is down more than a quarter.  All the while, student enrollment has continued to increase and applications are setting records.  It is not enough that recent budgets have stopped siphoning off higher education funding and provided some fiscal relief for both UC and CSU.  The time has come to reinvest in higher education for the sake of California’s future.

As our economy changes, many jobs are disappearing, even as more and better jobs are being created.  This new economy, driven by innovation, creativity, and technology, requires an educated workforce.  More than a million additional college graduates are needed over the next decade.  Together with our community colleges, UC and CSU are the lifelines of California’s economy and quality of life.  State reinvestment in higher education is essential

It is high time that Budget decision-makers recognize that public higher education is a fundamental State responsibility, not a luxury.

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