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'Sad Day For California'

January 11, 2011

A draconian budget plan laid out Monday by California Gov. Jerry Brown would slash higher education along with other already beleaguered state agencies.

In an effort to tackle an estimated $28 billion budget shortfall, the newly elected governor would strip $1.4 billion from public higher education institutions. The reductions would include $500 million each in cuts for the University of California and California State University. Additionally, $400 million would be carved from the budgets of the California Community Colleges.

The reductions constitute an 18 percent cut in state support for California State; 16.4 percent for the University of California; and 6.5 percent for community colleges, officials from the systems reported. [Updated from previous version].

While embracing the need for collective sacrifice, University of California President Mark Yudof said the reductions to the system constituted a “sad day for California.” The proposed reductions, he noted, would mean that collective student contributions to the cost of education would for the first time exceed contributions by the state.

“The crossing of this threshold transcends mere symbolism and should be profoundly disturbing to all Californians,” Yudof said in a released statement.

The $500 million reduction would mean that the state’s annual per-student contribution would fall to $7,210, compared to the $7,930 students now pay at the University of California on average. The student contribution has risen steadily amid the throes of the economic crisis, which has prompted a series of hikes in tuition, dubbed “fees” in California. Yudof said his “sense” was that the university would not implement another tuition increase to deal with the proposed budget reduction, but that he “cannot fully commit” to that course.

The tuition increases have sparked massive student protests, and faculty have questioned whether the cuts will worsen the quality of what is often regarded as the nation’s premier public university.

Charles B. Reed, chancellor of California State University, suggested Monday that the cuts would limit access.

“We will work with the administration and the legislature to minimize, as much as possible, impact to students. However, the reality is that we will not be able to admit as many students as we had been planning for this fall,” Reed said in a statement.

Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott was similarly foreboding, saying in a statement that the budget reductions would mean “up to 350,000 students will be turned away next year.”

A last-minute budget deal in October was designed to restore funding to public higher education in the state, but Brown’s plan would reverse those gains.

In a statement issued Monday, California’s Legislative Analyst's Office pointed out that the cuts actually restore higher education funding to its traditional place within the state's budget. Brown's proposal would provide about $9.8 billion in general fund support for public colleges and universities in 2011-12, which is about 11.6 percent of the total general fund spending. That percentage is about the same as the average share higher education has received over the past decade, the LAO noted. Of course, that average includes several years of significant budget reductions.

In a joint statement Monday, the heads of the three impacted systems -- Yudof, Reed and Scott -- suggested cuts to the institutions were counterproductive to economic recovery.

"It is clear the governor wants to engage Californians in a full and open discussion about what size of government they are willing to support. As leaders of the state's three public higher education systems, we are eager to participate in that conversation," the statement reads. "Given the vast demographic shifts underway in California, now is not the time to shrink public higher education, but to grow it. The road to recovery from this recession and prosperity far beyond it runs straight through our many campuses. These universities are the economic engines of California."

 

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