Higher education officials meet to deal with California’s struggling economy and lack of state funding

Irene Moore

Higher education officials brainstormed ways to deal with California’s funding crisis and the future relationship between strapped schools and the state’s economy.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom led the work group last week and focused on the derailing public school systems, which are facing their lowest level of state funding in 12 years.

“The purpose of bringing this group together, in particular, is to bring labor issues to the table with a leadership system across the university spectrum, not just CSU’s but UC and Community colleges, to leverage our collective wisdom, to connect the dots and to align a new narrative,” said Newsom.

Focus needs to shift from pointing the finger at whose fault the failure the school systems are and to take responsiblility to create collective action moving forward, Newsom said.

According to the Public Policy Insitute of California, if trends continue, only 35 percent of working aged adults in California will hold a bachelors degree although 41 percent of jobs will require one in 2025. They estimate a shortage of one-million graduates by 2025.

Public and private sectors need to work together to reinvest in higher education and help boost the economy at the same time, Newsom said.

“Education is affecting businesses ability to compete in a global economy,” said Newsom.

UC Berkeley student Jeremy Pilaar, a participant of the workgroup, said he was pleasantly surprised that everyone in the group was on the same page in terms of assessing the problem.

“It is a structural state revenue problem that the state of California is not bringing in enough money to fund higher education and other essential services,” said Pilaar, senior policial economy major.  “Something is going to have to be done about that to find a sustainable way to reinvest in higher education.”

CSU and UC systems sustained a $650 million cut in their state funds this year, and California’s 112 community colleges lost $400 million

In the event that the state is unable to generate an additional $4 billion in higher tax revenues, a $100 million cut will be made across the three systems.

Cal State schools have turned away 10,000 new students, and if budget cuts continue that number could grow, said Liz Chapin, CSU spokeswoman.  CSU officials are unsure how students will be affected in the upcoming years.

“The states aren’t contributing their fair share,” Pilaar said.  “This is the first year that tuition accounts for more than 50 percent of the UC’s funding.  To stop the blood letting we’re going to have to find new revenues for higher education, the question is how we go about doing that.”

The two hour closed-press meeting was attended by the UC president, CSU chancellor, Community College chancellor, UC union president, CFA president, a representative from the CSU board of trustees, UC regents chair and two students, one from UC and another from CSU.

Leaders from outside the higher education system also participated in the discussions, including the former director of finance for Govs. Davis and Schwarzenneger, Tim Gage, Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs, and a litigation lawyer who represents colleges and universities.

The group discussed scheduling another meeting in October to propose solutions for the problems in California’s higher education system.

“Students are the solution, they are the front line and there’s no movement without students being on the leading edge of that movement and leading us,” said Newsom.