UC, CSU and community colleges plead: No more cuts
May 4, 2012
Karin Higgins/UC Davis
By Dave Jones
SACRAMENTO — Linda P.B. Katehi and two students sat side by side on a sofa, voicing their fears for the future of public higher education in California.
The students — a single mother and a soon-to-be graduate — had not come to the Capitol this week for a meeting with the UC Davis chancellor.
Instead, Katehi joined the students May 1 for meetings with lawmakers as part of the third annual Joint Higher Education Advocacy Day. The 250 or so participants included administrators, students and alumni from around the UC and California State University systems, and California Community Colleges.
The advocates’ message: Make higher education a priority. No more cuts, which have prompted a reduction in course offerings and student services, and higher and higher fees. Now the schools, even after savings millions of dollars through more efficient operations, are closing their doors on tens of thousands of prospective students.
“What is the future for them?” Katehi asked, repeating the worry she expressed the day before (April 30) during a panel discussion at the Capitol. See separate story.
In a morning meeting May 1 with Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, single mom Jillian Allen said she wonders if she can afford to complete her studies at Woodland Community College — and if her son will even have a chance to attend. Allen, student trustee on the board of the Yuba Community College District, said she held a part-time job until recently, when she was laid off.
Laura Gonzalez, graduating this month from California State University, Sacramento, told Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis: “We’re an investment, and we’re an investment that’s a lifelong investment.”
The Sacramento State student body president said she and her classmates want to give back and pay taxes and “contribute to the life that we have here in California.”
But, on return visits to her alma mater, Ukiah High School, to encourage other students to go to college, Gonzalez has had to change her spiel. “The promises I used to make I can’t make anymore,” she said. “I used to say if you have a 3.5 or higher, or 4.0, you’re guaranteed a spot, you’re guaranteed a Cal Grant.
“Cal Grants, we don’t know if they’re going to be here next year. Pell Grants, we don’t know if they’re going to be here next year. We don’t know if you’re going to get a spot.
“So, when I talk to students now, I know the reality, I know the truth, and it hurts to say that you might not get a spot. What kind of a promise are making to our future where we can’t even tell them there’s a future?”
Education and politics
Education has value, Gonzalez emphasized, “but a lot of us just can’t afford it anymore.”
Yamada pointed to a map of California’s legislative districts and asked, “Have you talked to them?” — pointing to districts whose representatives have signed a no-new-tax pledge.
Katehi and others met with one of them in the afternoon: Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber (Tehama County), vice chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee.
“Our Republican plan (particularly the last two years) has offered more funding for CSU, UC and community colleges, than the governor, without a tax increase,” Nielsen said. “We have shown a road map that this can be done without a tax increase. And that continues to be our position.”
He said he aspires to a time when the state can boost funding to higher education, recalling a 30 percent increase one year in the Deukmejian administration (1983-91), when Nielsen served as Republican leader in the Senate.
Of course, that depends on improvement in the economy, Nielsen said.
Katehi seized the opportunity. Higher education delivers economic growth, she said. In research and innovation. And in everyday economic impact in northern California.
UC Davis generates $7 billion in economic activity each year, from a budget of $3.4 billion, of which the state contributes about $300 million.
“It’s a very small investment with a tremendous output,” she said. “And we worry about losing that, that engine that has been so productive and so impactful to the state.”
‘The dream is in peril’
UC President Mark G. Yudof, in an opening address under a tent on the Capitol’s south lawn, noted the appropriateness of the date: “It’s May Day. We’ve been coming here year after year, and we have been shouting, ‘May Day! May Day! May Day!’
“And sooner or later, I think … those in the building behind us will listen to what we have to say.”
In fact, Yudof said, "I do think we're making some progress, you get the sense that there's an understanding that state government has gone way, way, way too far in cutting back higher education.”
In the last two years alone, UC and the California State University system took a total of $1 billion in cuts.
"That's not a priority," CSU Chancellor Charles Reed said. "That's just saying, 'You know, we don't care very much about that.'"
Reed proposed a $100 million boost for higher education, by changing the state’s prison sentencing rules.
“Let’s talk today about changing the priorities in California from a set of priorities that’s based upon failure — and failure is an investment in the prison system,” he said.
Higher education, he said, is “the only way out” of our lagging economy.
“If we don’t have the best work force, if we don’t do the best research, if we don’t prepare the best technicians, things aren’t going to get better.”
Jack Scott, outgoing president of California Community Colleges, highlighted the enduring value of the state’s half-century-old Master Plan for Higher Education, which laid out specific roles for UC, CSU and the community colleges.
“That plan became the fuel for the increase in the economy of California,” Scott said in remarks at the start of advocacy day.
“And what happened in California in the subsequent 50 years was magical. The economy burgeoned. The state itself was fulfilling that wonderful dream, the dream of the Golden State of California.
“But, I’m here to tell you today that that dream is in peril … because, slowly, the segments of public higher education in California are in decline because of a lack of funding.”
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