Public higher education in California has been pushed into a precarious predicament over the past few years due to a slew of state-sponsored budget cuts and university fee hikes.
Are our policy makers truly “tightening the belt” and “cutting out the fat” or are they grafting from our education to save a little face?
It is difficult to tell if the rise in the cost of education for Californians is a terrible failure by the state and the CSU Board of Trustees to commit to the Master Plan, or if the extra money from students’ pockets is a solution to our financial problems and will sustain the rate of enrollment and strengthen the quality of our curriculum for a new generation.
The most recent cuts come from Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2011-2012 budget, passed this July, decreasing allocations for higher education by over $2 billion and slimming down the CSU budget by about $650 million. The state trimmed down other departments as well, such as Health and Human Services and Environmental Protection, but padded others like Business, Transportation and Housing and the department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The steepest student tuition fee hike was issued for the 2011-2012 academic year. Undergraduate students taking 6.1 or more units have been demanded to pay $621 more than Spring 2011 for the Fall 2011 semester, rounding out the semester charges to $2,736.
It is true that when compared to other state university student fees, the 2011-2012 CSU tuition rates run relatively low. According to the CSU, this is due to the California Master Plan for Higher Education created in 1960, which sought to maintain low costs for students, encourage increased access to Californians and provide a high quality education.
According to a memorandum from CSU Chancellor Charles Reed, sent January this year, this golden age for higher education may be beginning to end.
“After several decades of extraordinary commitment to fulfilling the promise of the Master Plan, the current period of unprecedented economic stress in California has resulted in the state’s inability to sustain its historic level of support to higher education,” the memorandum read.
“The burden of ensuring that the state assumes its fundamental responsibility to provide adequate support for public higher education must remain with State policy makers,” Reed states. “…CSU enrollment levels have always been, and will continue to be, determined by the level of support provided by the state budget.”
Since 2006, Full Time Equivalency (FTE) enrollment decreased by 13% by the fall of 2010, whereas fee rates increased by 68%. From fall 2008 to fall 2009, enrollment decreased by 55,596 students while fees for the fall 2009 semester increased by $489, the second largest semester-to-semester increase after the most recent hike.
In this depressed economy, where unemployment is high, consumer power is waning and the gap between the richest and poorest citizens is increasing, we need to be able to count on a quality education to continue to lift people out of poverty, raise educated critical thinkers who uphold our democracy for the generations to come. A solution may not be clear cut, but the people of California cannot afford to sustain any more drastic cuts to the University of California and Cal State University systems.