Schwarzenegger Budget Slams CSUs
Proposal would raise fees, reduce funding and enrollment
January 28, 2004 4:36 PM
Gov. Schwarzenegger dealt the California State University system a stunning blow Jan. 9 when he released his 2004-2005 budget proposal.
The proposal includes a $240 million cut from the CSU system, a 10 percent increase in fees for undergraduates, and a 10 percent reduction in enrollment. The budget also proposes the elimination of funding for the CSU’s Educational Opportunity Program, outreach and academic preparation programs; programs lauded as highly successful in helping less fortunate students obtain college degrees.
The proposed cuts arrive on the back of an earlier $531 million cut to the CSU system in 2003-2004.
Schwarzenegger’s budget depends on voters passing a $15 billion bond slated for November’s ballot. Should it fail to pass, the proposal has no chance at being implemented. The bond, titled Proposition 57, already faces a dubious electorate. Recent polls show just one-third of likely voters supporting Prop. 57.
Schwarzenegger recently began taking his case to the masses, appearing in town-hall type forums across the state to try to convince Californians that the bond is vital to the state’s economic well-being. The governor also highlighted the importance of the bond in his State of the State speech, calling it “absolutely critical to our financial future. The alternative is economics chaos.”
However, Clara Potes-Fellow, a spokesperson for the CSU Chancellor, believes the real danger to California’s economy lies in the proposed cuts to the CSU system.
“The CSU system normally graduates 77,000 students every year,” she says. “Without funding, that’s 77,000 less professionals that will be joining the workforce, which could affect the economy and tax collections. The more prepared people you have, the better jobs they get, and the better wages they earn.”
“When you reduce investment to the CSU,” says Potes-Fellow, “you are reducing investment in the California economy.”
Schwarzenegger also took flak from prominent state Democrats for cutting funding for various programs and local governments rather than raising taxes. For example, a tax hike for Californians who earn more than $250,000 could net the state $2 billion-$3 billion.
Rebecca Adams, a SF State student, agrees. She believes the proposed cuts would “discourage people with no money from getting degrees, when (Schwarzenegger) could tax people who already have a lot of money.”
“It’s ridiculous,” says SF State student Tanya Josephson of the proposed cuts. “The priorities of this state are all wrong. There’s got to be other places where you can cut than a school system that’s already so under-funded.”
Josephson is currently completing a master’s of art degree in women’s studies, and her status as a graduate student leaves her far more vulnerable to the proposed fee hikes. While undergraduate fees will rise 10 percent, graduate fees would go up 40 percent.
For Anvi Parikh, an SF State junior studying mathematics and biochemistry, the scenario that Josephson describes is a reality. She wants to attend graduate school at SF State, but worries the cost would prove to steep if the current budget is passed. “I don’t think I could keep going to school,” she says.
However, not all SF State students are concerned about the proposed cuts.
As soon as news of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to cut $240 million from the CSU system and raise student fees considerably came out, SF State Professor Corey Cook asked his winter session political science students what they thought of it.
Instead of hearing rallying cries to organize and battle the governor’s proposed changes, he mostly heard statements like, “Uh-oh, I better hurry up, get done quick, and get out of here before this affects me.”
This sort of attitude may help explain why the governor’s cuts targeted public colleges. Higher education provides an easy target for lawmakers, as students rarely vote in elections and are poorly organized and represented on the state level.
“(Higher education) is the most unprotected thing there is in the California budget,” said Cook, who specializes in California and urban politics. “Politically, cutting higher education is a pretty safe thing to do. Students don’t have a strong organization protecting their interests in the legislature. People see it as a bipartisan thing to pass on budget deficits to college students.”
Voter turnout among student-age voters may be one reason lawmakers consider cutting funding to higher education so politically palatable. According the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, electoral participation of Californians under the age of 25 has declined by 20 percent since 1972. In 2000, voter turnout among 18-24-year-olds was 44 percent – a full 26 percent lower than those 25 or older. Without the threat of being voted out of office by young voters, many politicians may feel no need to cater to their interests.
While many groups who could have had their funding severely cut by the governor have strong political lobbies in Sacramento – the prison guards union, for example – college students have none. This lack of state-level organization leaves public colleges largely out of the negotiating process when it comes to budgetary decisions.
Another reason the budget proposal includes such profound cuts for higher education lies in funding for state college’s status as discretionary, meaning colleges are not constitutionally guaranteed a certain amount of funding by the state of California.
When a governor must find money to cover a large deficit, such as California’s projected $14.9 billion deficit for 2003-2004, he has few options. Sixty-five to 70 percent of the state budget is decided before any sort of budgetary choices are made, due to constitutional assurances that certain programs or groups will receive certain amounts of funding.
What remains are the areas of the budget considered discretionary, which the governor has control over. Discretionary areas include higher education, health care, and welfare, all of which are being cut heavily to cover the deficit.
Should students choose to fight the cuts, they do have options. The incredible political organization that grew around the recent San Francisco mayoral race and Proposition 54, could be emulated to create a movement opposing cuts to the CSU system. The large 18-25 year old set could be motivated to start voting against candidates that make cutting higher education part of the platform.
Students could also begin to organize on the state level. Funding for K-12 education was not cut in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget in large part because of the constitutional guarantees they will receive a certain amount of funding. Local governments, like colleges, currently don’t have similar guarantees but are working to place an initiative on the next statewide ballot that would ensure they would receive a certain amount of state funding. By organizing on the state level, college students also could put a similar initiative on the ballot.
Along with higher fees and less funding, the proposed budget will drastically affect CSU enrollment.
The upcoming spring semester of 2004 marks the first time California will break a promise it made to its residents concerning their access to college. In 1989, lawmakers introduced a revision to the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education. The revision stated all students in the top third of their graduating high school class would be guaranteed a spot in the CSU system.
Due to recent cuts, this year that won’t happen, according to Potes-Fellow. “It definitely is a broken promise to students. We are not going to be admitting all students eligible to CSU, “ she says.
And should the governor's budget pass, the situation would worsen. The budget may force the CSU system to reduce enrollment by approximately 20,000 students. The proposal also recommends redirecting 4,200 of CSU freshmen to community colleges.
The CSU system, wary of the possibility of the budget passing, already has plans in the works to open up more spaces in their colleges faster. Stricter requirements for community college transfer students are currently being considered. The requirements would force community college students to complete 60 units of coursework, declare a major, and pass certain prerequisite classes before they would be allowed admittance. Ideally, this would get students in and out of colleges faster.
Despite all of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s brutal cuts, raised fees, and decreased enrollment, the state legislature’s independent budget analyst Elizabeth Hill claimed the new budget would still lead to a $6 billion shortfall in 2004-2005, more than twice what the governor’s office predicts.
If her prediction is correct, next year could be just as devastating for higher education as this one.
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