Patt Morrison for July 11, 2011

Tuition increases, budget cuts expected for California’s ailing public universities

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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Students and faculty members hold a rally before their march on the campus of California State University, Northridge, demonstrating against proposed budget cuts at all 23 Cal State University campuses statewide on April 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.

It has been a historically bad couple of years for the University of California and California State University systems. The state’s perennial budget deficits have forced several rounds of tuition increases for UC and CSU students. Both systems have had to cut back on faculty, staff, class offerings, extra curricular activities and events. This week, officials at both UC and CSU are meeting with expectations of further tuition increases and budget cuts, made necessary by a new state budget that slashes $150 million from each system.

As bad as this double whammy of tuition increases and program cuts sounds, this round of austerity measures will come on top of several earlier rounds of tuition hikes. For UC schools, the increases that will be voted on next week will be the 9th set of tuition hikes implemented in the last 10 years.

Cal State Trustees, meeting tomorrow in Long Beach, will vote on a 12 percent tuition hike to be implemented by the coming Fall semester. Over the past two years CSU has lost $325 million in state funding, forcing jobs cuts, pay reduction, cuts in programs and services, capped enrollment and of course several rounds of tuition increases. Tuitions are expected to hit $5,472 next year, double what they were five years ago.

UC Regents, starting three days of meetings tomorrow in San Francisco, will vote on a 9.6 percent increase. The UC system had cut $500 million from its budget over the past two years, increased tuitions 32 percent in 2009 and then an additional 8 percent in 2010. The UC's Office of the President estimates losses over the past few years totals $1 billion, with $650 million in state funding reductions and $350 million in unfunded mandatory costs for employee retirement benefits.

The tuition increases will only cover a portion of the loss to the schools' funds. In the case of the UC schools, the tuition increase of 9.6 percent will only cover about one quarter of the problem, guest Nathan Brostrom of the University of California said, pointing out that after the cuts the school will have an even smaller budget than it did in 1997 when it was offering fewer programs and degrees. Now, fourteen years later, the UC schools are seeing larger class sizes and impacted majors.

One thing that remains steady for the UC schools is students' ability to graduate on time.

"Students are doing what it takes to finish sooner, because frankly it is costing more to get a UC education," Brostrom said.

The demand for the university also remains "strong as ever," according to Brostrom, who says freshman applications have even increased in the last few years and enrollment remains stable.

"The two things we will not sacrifice are the quality of the university and the access to the university for all Californians – that is one thing that distinguishes us," Brostrom added.

Making cuts without sacrificing quality is a concern for the CSU system as well. Robert Turnage, assistant vice chancellor for budget at the California State University system said the CSU system plans on making administrative cuts and adjustments for efficiency to cover about $400 million of their budget, but $300 million will have to have to be recovered from tuition increases. "If we were to do less than that," Turnage explained, "the spending cuts would hurt the students directly."

On the increased pressure that tuition hikes will put on students in an already tough economy, Turnage said, "I am sympathetic with the stresses that many students face," but pointed out that even with these increases, the CSU system will remain "one of the most amazingly affordable institutions in the country."

Annie, who attends CSU Long Beach agreed, commenting online: "Hailing from another state, the cost for a statewide university with equivalency to a CSU school, I used to pay in one semester what I pay one YEAR here."

Not all students accept that suggestion, however. Ankur, a caller who attends CSU Northridge expressed his anger over the situation, pointing out that his peers now refer to CSU Chancellor Charles Reed as "Chancellor Greed."

Students are not the only ones affected by the budget cuts. Brostrom said UC faculty are "falling behind their private counterparts" in terms of salary. Turnage added that 9 employees of the CSU system have already been let go.

"There are no easy tradeoffs here," Turange said, "We have basically run out of maneuvering room."

The larger question for the leaders of CSU and UC, and the political leadership of California, is what the future holds for public and affordable higher education in the state. Students at both systems have been caught in a vicious cycle of a lousy economy and scaled back higher education, right at the very time when a robust public university system could be a real asset.

Guests:

Nathan Brostrom, executive vice president for business operations at the University of California

Robert Turnage, assistant vice chancellor for budget at the California State University system


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