Californians concerned by cost of school
November 29, 2007 9:48 AM
While politicians at the state Capitol study the state budget and decide how much to allocate to the California State University system, a recent survey of Californians shows that their esteem for higher education is only equal to their worry of how to afford school.
On Nov. 14, the CSU Board of Trustees signed off on its request for funding from the state for the 2008-09 school year. In contrast to past years, it included a request for an additional $73.2 million that would eliminate the need to raise student fees another 10 percent.
Now, the California Department of Finance and the governor's office must take into account every state agency's request for funding, weigh in a large projected deficit for 2008, and have a budget ready for legislators on Jan. 10.
That will give the parties time to mull a report by the Public Policy Institute of California, issued on Oct. 31, that while 92 percent of Californians think that getting a higher education was "money and time well spent", over half (56 percent) think that getting a college education is more difficult than it was 10 years ago.
"Our state's public universities promised California a high quality and affordable education," said Assembly member Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada) in an e-mail statement. "Unfortunately, we are putting that promise in jeopardy."
As Chairman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, Portantino is in an influential position to help fully fund the CSU budget, which also includes an $155.2 million request above what normal funding to pay for an increase in employee pay, increasing the number of tenure track faculty, various student services initiatives and for research in scientific areas.
For PPIC, the goal of the survey—the non-partisan group's first on higher education—is to start a "discussion" about how California values education.
"The hope is that, with this report, different lawmakers would be able to talk about what the public expressed concern in," PPIC Survey Project Manager Jennifer Paluch said. "It could help shape the debate."
Over the next two months, the state will be meeting with CSU officials over the budget request. Representatives from both sides, including CSU trustee Melinda Guzman, will also be in attendance when the survey results are presented to the California Postsecondary Education Commission on the Dec. 4.
"We'll have negotiations," CSU spokesman Paul Browning said. "Our people are there working and they are working with legislators. They'll push. They push the entire budget."
The most telling sign of the public's concern came from a general question about what major issues are facing California's public school today—35 percent said it was student costs, affordability and tuition.
"It was really a surprising choice," Paluch said, "because when we ask [that type of question in other surveys] we don't have anywhere close to that percentage agree on one issue."
Lt. Gov. John Garamendi has been getting increasingly involved in higher education, widely criticizing CSU top executives for giving themselves as much as 18 percent in raises last month, all the while mulling another fee increase.
"We have seen a dramatic shift in our state's priorities over the past decade, reducing state funding for higher education and balancing the state's budget on the backs of our student," he said in a press release.
As an ex-officio CSU boardmember, Garamendi proposed unveiled a resolution at the trustees' meeting in Long Beach this month to cap student fees at current levels, with future increases limited to the rate of inflation. It will be voted on in January.
In the past five years, CSU fees have risen from $1,428 to $2,772 for undergraduate students and have more than double for graduate students, Garamendi said.
Evident in the survey was an expectation, across racial, ethnic and regional demographics groups, that today's children are expected to earn college degrees and even go beyond undergraduate studies.
"A college degree is like the high school diploma was 30 years ago. You have to have one to compete in this job market," said California Faculty Association vice president Kim Geron, arguing for more state support of public colleges. "Why does public school end at K-12? Why not K-16?"
In the survey, Californians overwhelmingly favored more government funding to work-study programs, student loans, scholarships and to keep tuition and fee costs low.
But this comes at a time when legislative analysts are expecting a $10 billion deficit for 2008 and Schwarzenegger is calling for state agencies to cut their budgets by 10 percent, not raise them.
"I would like to see both systems [CSU and UC] better utilize limited dollars," Portantino wrote in an e-mail. He criticized them for increasing executive compensations and "taking important focus away from our children."
When asked where increases in state funding for higher education should come from, those surveyed favored raising income tax for the wealthiest but vastly opposed raising sales taxes. The PPIC's Paluch called this a "disconnect."
"In this case we find that Californians are not as inclined to say that everybody should have to pay," she said.
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