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State Defunding Erodes Promise of College for Next Generation

Posted: Oct 30, 2012

Although record numbers of California high school students are graduating, meeting CSU and UC admission standards, and preparing to pursue advanced degrees or workforce training, state funding for California’s public colleges and universities is eroding dramatically, along with the promise of an affordable, accessible, quality college education. The $1.8 billion collective cut to California’s public higher education system last year was the largest faced by any state government entity.

California families are feeling the consequences of these cuts in access and affordability. Young people, particularly those from middle income families, have been asked to shoulder a growing tuition burden. Since 2007-08, CSU tuition has increased 97%, and UC tuition and fees have increased about 75%. Leaders of both the CSU and UC have indicated that additional tuition hikes will be necessary if Proposition 30 fails.

If Proposition 30 fails, CSU and UC will each face another $250 million cut, and the community colleges will face another $338 million reduction which would total nearly $1 billion more cut from higher education this year. State support for UC and CSU has already declined by about one-third since 2007-08, and funding for the Community Colleges has been cut by 12 percent over the same time period.

Unfortunately, tuition increases have addressed only a fraction of the state cuts. CSU has been forced to reduce enrollment by nearly 30,000, increase class size, and eliminate state support of summer classes at most campuses. CSU also tightened its eligibility criteria to correspond to reduced state funding, which effectively closed the door to thousands of eligible freshmen, and dramatically slashed the mid-year transfer admission paths for California Community College students. UC has also reduced enrollment, and UC-eligible applicants are finding that gaining admission to their campuses of choice is an increasingly difficult goal to achieve. Students fortunate enough to be admitted to a UC campus may be denied access to the classes they need for graduation because high student demand has already filled those classes. UC students are also confronted with much larger class sizes, reduced library hours, and shrinking opportunities for face-to-face time with faculty. Many community College students are finding their attempts to complete certificates or degrees or to transfer to a university delayed by one to two years or more because the classes they need are full or are offered less frequently. The Community College system has indicated that 180,000 additional students may be affected if Proposition 30 fails.

Californians understand the critical importance of postsecondary education for the 21st century economy. One in three high school students completes the “a-g” course pattern required for CSU and UC admission. The percentage who complete advanced work such as calculus and Advanced Placement classes is increasing, and the demand for preparation and training at our community colleges is at an all-time high. California high school students who have worked to prepare themselves for admission to the state’s colleges and universities are seeing their ability to achieve their goals threatened by the prospects of higher tuition, reduced course offerings, and enrollment cuts, and therefore they are increasingly leaving the state to pursue their education. The students have done their part; now California needs to honor the commitment it made to these students when they started elementary school.

Faculty have watched the state break the Master Plan’s promise to California’s young people—the future leaders of California— of access to affordable, quality higher education. That promise is based on the well-established expectation that in return these young people will become productive citizens who establish businesses, teach our children, provide health care, and build California’s reputation as the place for innovation in technology and the arts. Bright young Californians are being turned away from public higher education, and many are leaving the state. California cannot afford to allow this ethically irresponsible and economically damaging trend to continue. We urge you to vote “yes” on 30.

Michelle Pilati, President, Academic Senate for the California Community Colleges; Diana Wright Guerin, Chair, California State University Academic Senate; Robert Powell, Chair, University of California Academic Senate. 

The authors are professors at Rio Hondo College, California State University Fullerton, and University of California Davis, respectively. This article reflects their personal views, not those of their institutions.

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