A new post by guest author Sonia Rasmussen. I’m pleased to have her on board here and I hope she will write more articles for us.
The state of California has recently experienced a number of financial woes, and the poor economy has been detrimental to the state’s university system. Crowded classrooms, tuition hikes and reduced curricula plagued these schools as the recession peaked last year. Unfortunately, more state funding cuts are expected in the coming years—and experts warn the California university system may worsen before it improves.
In August 2011, Los Angeles Times reported that community college students in California would start pay higher fees for tuition, despite a dramatically thinned class list. The state reduced annual funding for two-year universities by roughly $400 million—and as a result, student fees were raised by $10 per unit.
At the time, Chancellor Jack Scott noted that 5 percent fewer classes would be offered at community colleges in California, which would leave more than 600,000 students out of the classrooms. Thousands of students are expected to turn to online universities and even accredited online doctorate programs, but hundreds of thousands are expected to remain without a university over the coming years.
Many four-year colleges in California faced similar deficits last summer, as all 23 Cal State University campuses recorded uncomfortably high enrollments, limited faculty members and increased expenses for books and classroom materials.
CSU Chancellor Charles Reed claimed he would try to avoid a mid-year tuition hike, though state funding for the university network was reduced by roughly $650 million and, as a result, student tuition rose by 22 percent from the previous year. This equated an increased annual expenditure of nearly $1,000 for all full-time undergraduates. Due to reduced classes, Cal State campuses turned down approximately 10,000 prospective applicants in 2011.
In March 2012, MSNBC reported that CSU would freeze enrollment beginning in Spring 2013 in response to further budget cuts—a shortfall of roughly $750 million. An additional reduction of $200 million could result if a tax initiative proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown fails on the November ballot. If the cuts reach their highest potential, spring enrollment could be cut from 70,000 to 25,000 accepted applicants.
Despite the cuts, KTLA Los Angeles reported last week that two CSU presidents (Fullerton and East Bay) will receive a 10 percent salary boost—the maximum increase allowed for a single fiscal year. The news sparked outrage among many students, despite claims from CSU’s Board of Trustees that the salary hikes were necessary to retain consistent leadership.
The trustees also pointed out that even after the increase, the two presidents still earned 20 percent less than their nationwide counterparts.
Though the University of California system has fared slightly better, it was also the subject of a controversial salary increase in March 2012 when President Mark Yudof defended an overall employee pension increase of more than $60 million. As California colleges continue a downward slide, their leaders are preparing for the first by padding their own bank accounts.
The future of state funding for California universities will rest on Governor Brown’s proposed tax initiative. If it passes, the state sales tax would increase by a quarter cent for four years. In addition, personal income taxes would be increased for individuals who make $250,000 or more annually.
Financial experts estimate the initial gain would surpass $9 billion, with gains of roughly $7 billion every successive year. Though the initiative would certainly help the plight of California schools, it has not yet been officially approved for the November ballot.
As the California government scrambles to save its faltering school system, students are paying higher prices for insufficiently funded campuses. The inherent unfairness of this dichotomy is underscored by the state’s uncertain future.
Even if the tax initiative is accepted and ultimately passes, the new monies will merely provide a temporary solution. In order to salvage its university program—one of the country’s largest—California must develop a sustainable, long-term plan for funding its schools and keeping students in their classrooms.