Holding a line, almost, on higher edBudget renews hope for colleges, universities
California’s public colleges and universities were spared their worst-case scenario fears in Monday’s May revise, but it’s not exactly a cause for celebration. Gov. Brown didn’t add money to higher education, but thanks to the $6.6 billion in unexpected revenues, he managed to keep from cutting any more than what was approved in March. For the University of California and California State University that’s a hit of $500 million each. The community college system gets away with a paltry $400 million decrease.
It could have been worse. In fact, it still could get worse. The no-additional-cuts budget for higher education remains contingent on extending at least some of the tax increases that GOP legislators in Sacramento have so far refused to put before voters. Without that money, cuts would double to $1 billion apiece. So UC President Mark Yudof and CSU Chancellor Charles Reed responded to the May revise with calculated warnings that appeared directed at Sacramento.
“A cut of this magnitude would be unconscionable – to the university, its students and families, and to the state that it has served for nearly a century and a half,” said Yudof in a statement on UC’s website. “This is not the first round of cuts we’ve faced in the ongoing fiscal crisis. We have been engaged in a three-year exercise in coping with wholesale cutbacks, and by now the magic bullets all have been spent.” Yudof said additional reductions would almost certainly mean another tuition hike. That’s on top of the 8% approved last November, and 32% the previous year.
Cal State Chancellor Reed was more graphic in his written comments, comparing a possible billion dollar cut to a tactic used in warfare. “That would be a scorched earth budget and would inflict lasting damages to the university,” said Reed. “There will undoubtedly be severe and painful choices that we would have to make to address such a massive funding reduction.” He, too, warned of more hikes, suggesting they could jump by another 32 percent unless the tax increases are continued.
An accounting trick
California’s community colleges averted a tripling of their $400 million in cuts and a nearly threefold increase in student fees. Yesterday’s budget plan pushes fees from $26 per unit to $36, still the lowest in the nation, and considerably less than the $66 per unit recommended by the State Legislative Analyst. The fee hike will bring in an additional $110 million, which will offset part of the $400 million reduction, bringing the total cut to $290 million. But it’s not enough to prevent course retrenchment at the 112 campuses. “I don’t know of any college that is not reducing its course schedule for 2011-12,” said Scott Lay, president and CEO of the Community College League of California.
Lay was also critical of what appears to be a little something extra in the budget for community colleges. The increased revenue boosts the Proposition 98 pot by about $3 billion. Gov. Brown proposed using the $350 million share that goes to community colleges to start paying down $961 million in deferrals that the system has amassed in the past decade. But part of that is a $129 million deferral that was approved in March but hasn’t taken effect. Lay called it an “accounting trick,” and said it doesn’t affect them programmatically. He’d prefer it if they could use the money to protect faculty, staff, and courses. “We believe that would be a smarter approach to preserve jobs and open up classes for 48,000 students.”
Farewell to CPEC
Another higher ed victim of the budget cuts isn’t a college or university. As part of his proposal to reduce state government, Gov. Brown has identified 43 state boards, commissions, and departments for elimination. Among them is the California Postsecondary Education Commission. Speaking as a reporter, CPEC has been a valuable source of data on everything from enrollment to student transfer statistics. Its primary mission has been policy analyses and recommendations to the governor and legislature regarding policy and funding for state colleges and universities. Shuttering it “would have little programmatic impact,” according to the budget narrative, “as the functions it performs are either advisory in nature or can be performed by other agencies.” The move will save $927,000 next year. (An earlier version misstated this amount.)