Higher Education Fights Budget Proposed Cuts in California

California's three institutions of higher education have joined forces. They want to fight off a billion dollars in proposed budget cuts. They say if Sacramento makes the cuts, California's public colleges and universities will have to turn away tens of thousands of students next year. KPCC's Julie Small has more.

Julie Small: It's been almost 50 years since California adopted the Master Plan for Higher Education. The plan guaranteed admission to the University of California for the top one-eighth of the state's high school graduates. The top one-third would be assured places at California State University campus.

And all of the state's high school students could attend community college. Best of all, the Master Plan said all of those high school students could attend college "tuition-free." California Community College Chancellor Diane Woodruff says the Master Plan's authors set the gold standard for college admission.

Diane Woodruff: It was the first time in history that a state, or a nation, promised that there would be a spot in higher education for every single high school graduate, and that if you attended a community college and worked hard enough, that you too could transfer to the best universities in the world.

Small: Take last year. About a hundred thousand students transferred from community colleges to four-year universities in California. A third of the UC's graduates, and a hefty 60% of the grads from the CSU system, transferred in. That's the way the system's supposed to work. But University of California Provost Rory Hume warns that the state's proposed budget cuts could throw higher education into reverse.

Rory Hume: It's at risk today, it's at risk from a level of cuts that is unprecedented in its cumulative effects.

Small: Budget cuts could mean a freeze on hiring faculty, and Hume says that could cost the UC a lot of young and talented professors.

Hume: We won't be able to hire the best and the brightest young people. They'll go to, very probably, the Ivy League. We won't be able to retain the best people as their careers mature.

Small: The UC might have to freeze enrollment, too. Students who can't get into the UC often head to the CSU, but they may find that door closing, too. Chancellor Charles Reed says the CSU turned away 10,000 students this year. The students who did get in could be asked to pay an extra 10% in fees. That's almost $300 a year; even then, that won't cover the millions in cuts.

Charles Reed: We're going to have larger class sizes. We're going to provide less student services, academic advising, and help to students if we have to cut back. We're going to have fewer administrators, and fewer administrative services.

Small: Students who can't get into the UC or CSU, or who can't afford the higher fees, can still find a place at one of 109 California community colleges. But Community College Chancellor Diane Woodruff says the budget cuts could mean many more students, but a lot fewer classes.

Woodruff: Because our community colleges are open access institutions and we're not able to limit the enrollment the way UC and CSU do, the real impact is that even when students get in, they can't get the classes that they need to transfer or to graduate on time.

Small: Instead of cutting education funding, CSU Chancellor Charles Reed says the state should raise taxes to invest more.

Reed: California, as a state, has got to increase its revenue so that it can provide the government services that most good, healthy states provide.

Small: Reed says California's higher education system produces a skilled workforce that attracts employers, and keeps the state running. Without that magnet, he says, California's economy could lose jobs to states willing to pay a little more for higher education.

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