In his freshman year, Danny Santana received financial aid, took out two loans to cover housing and worked part-time. Yet this CSUN student’s bank account is negative $149.
Like many students he’s feeling the crunch despite Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May revision of the state budget, which restored $97.6 million to the California State University system, reducing the gap in state funding to the CSU system to $288 million.
The general fund doesn’t have the money to cover the $124 million tuition increase, leaving CSU students to foot the bill.
‘It’s not just me and there are students in worst situations than me, who have to work more,’ said Santana, double majoring in history and Chicano/a studies.
‘I have a lot of friends who work two to three jobs, two during the week and one on the weekend and because of this they go to school part-time taking them seven years to graduate.’
To Santana, a first generation college student involved with Students for Quality Education, the restored $97 million isn’t much. It’s about 4 percent of the CSU system’s total budget.
For CSUN students the budget gap translates to fewer and larger classes. Even for those students who can afford to go to college on their own, the impacted classes will probably mean they will be here longer.
As it is, it takes CSUN students an average of six years to graduate, according to a survey conducted by SQE.
The budget gap also caused freshman admission to close in March for the first time.
‘The CSU can’t take more students than it can serve because it’s not just about offering classes,’ said Teresa Ruiz, spokesperson for the Office of the Chancellor.
‘The CSU must provide student services like counseling, access to libraries and laboratories so those areas will also be impacted.’
CSUN is recognized as a Latino serving institution as well as other minority students who may be first generation college students navigating the higher education terrain on their own.
‘These cuts will erase significant gains made in recent years to increase access for minority and underserved communities,’ Ruiz said.
The revision comes as California is in a $15 billion deficit and legislators are still unable to negotiate an agreement on the state budget, running six weeks late.
Negotiations recently went south when Republicans rejected the Democrats proposed plan, which would have increased taxes on the rich and corporations. Most Republicans had signed a pledge not to increase taxes.
Deputy Director of the California Department of Finance, H.D. Palmer, said that while students are coming up with the money to fill in the budget gap, they still pay some of the lowest tuition fees in the nation.
‘Even though we’re having to face a closing budget gap north of $15 billion the Governor was able, in the May revision, to add additional resources for both the CSU as well as UC’s to ensure that any fee increases don’t go farther.’
Palmer added that while the state is doing what it can to make higher education more affordable, there are going to be costs that students will have to bear in order to close the $15 million deficit.
Even then the revision isn’t final.
‘It’s not a done deal yet, even though we’re running more than six weeks after the start of the fiscal year,’ Palmer said.
CSUN Chicano/a studies professor and President of the CSUN chapter of California Faculty Association, Dr. Theresa Montano, said that the money restored to the CSU budget was significant and attributes it to the advocacy from the education community.
‘However it’s no where near what we need to have a good, sound CSU system,’ she said.
Montana acknowledged that the fee increase caused by the budget gap discourages students from going to CSUN. Looking at her class schedules some of the classes that normally fill up and has to turn students away from, are no longer filled to capacity.
‘The Republicans refused to vote for a bill that would require corporations to have to pay more in taxes,’ Montana said, ‘that’s ridiculous and even then that would not have been enough to fund higher education.’
‘If we believe that we have the best education system in the country then we need to make sure we put or money where our mouth is.’
CSUN Provost and Vice President, Harry Hellenbrand, said he would be surprised if the money stayed in the budget and that with this being an election year legislators interests are elsewhere.
‘I would bet you any amount of money that with the budget we get we’ll likely get a mid-year revision and it’s hard once you spent the money for half the year to deal with a budget revision,’ he said.
Hellenbrand noticed that while social services and education gets cut, more money is being put into building prisons and walls. He attributes it not only to legislatures priorities being out of place, but to society as a whole.
‘The problem is that the state and the nation are more afraid of the bad that impends over their head than the bad that will come in ten years,’ Hellenbrand said.
Students are the ones who are caught in the middle because they want to have a quality education so they can work in their field of choice, he said.
Should CSU students complain even though they pay some of the lowest tuition fees in the nation?
‘They shouldn’t complain, but they have a right to just like any other student in the nation,’ Hellenbrand said.
But while advocating for more money from the State the education community should also look at other costs that can be controlled.
‘How much are books going up each year? How much is gas going up each year? How much is technology going up?’ Hellenbrand said. ‘Those costs are getting a free ride, one thing they can do is force us to control the costs of books and technology, people buy seven different clickers for five different classes.’
To control the costs of books, Hellenbrand proposed in a paper on the CSU budget titled ‘Reflection in a Bloodshot Eye: Budget, CSUN, CSU’, that campuses arrange textbook rentals for one-third of the cost of ownership, that campuses collaborate on e-text in General Education classes.
Other solutions include scheduling online classes once a week instead of driving to class and partnering with web-based companies, giving them ad access to college consumers, while paying less for technology updates.
Campus’, Hellenbrand said, should be more aggressive in recruiting out of state students because they pay three times as in-state students, and thus paying for one and a half students to attend CSUN.
Hellenbrand expects the budget to continue to get worse and tuition fees to rise, but noted that they will eventually level out as they did in the early 80’s and 90’s. Still he maintains the state is hurting itself as well as the students.
‘The more (students) pay the more they have to work and the more loans they take out,’ he said. ‘They’ll probably still attend college but they’ll be here longer and they’ll be in debt when they leave.’