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December 8, 2003

Higher education leaders say public must know impact of added cuts

By Marina Dundjerski
UCLA Today staff writer

California’s three public higher education institutions must work together to navigate through the fiscal challenges they face while preserving quality, affordability and access, their leaders said at a budget forum sponsored by the University of California and held at UCLA December 1.

UC President Robert Dynes, left, with UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale at a town hall forum with students, faculty and staff Photo: UC Office of the President

One of the main topics tackled by the education leaders was how to finance public higher learning at a time of fiscal crisis.

UC President Robert C. Dynes, California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed and California Community Colleges Chancellor Thomas J. Nussbaum all agreed that the public needs to be convinced that further cuts to higher education will be detrimental to individuals and the economic future of the state.

“[Californians] still do expect the best of higher education in the country and do believe somehow that they’re paying for it,” Dynes said. “But they have lost track of what it costs.”

Reed added, “You have lots of advocates in the state, and they want a life that is better for their children than they had.… It’ll scare the hell out of them if they find out that their son or daughter is not going to get into the CSU or UC or the community colleges. And we haven’t done a very good job of talking about the consequences of that.”

Steven A. Olsen, UCLA’s vice chancellor of finance, said that due to mandates on state spending--such as Proposition 98, which guarantees a certain level of money to K-12 and the community college system--Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the legislature cannot depend on economic recovery to solve the operating deficit.

Such “mandatory” budget items comprise 63 percent of California’s General Fund spending in 2004-05, Olsen said. On the other hand, the “discretionary” budget --which includes UC, CSU, prisons, health and social services--makes up 37 percent of General Fund spending. And UC’s and CSU’s combined funding of $5.3 billion is 16 percent of the “discretionary” budget, Olsen added. Already the state Department of Finance has asked all state entities, including the UC and CSU, to make plans for possible cuts of up to 20 percent in 2004-05.

State education leaders are beginning to ask themselves a soul-searching question: Is California’s higher education system becoming state-assisted rather than state-supported? Under such a system, Olsen explained, the universities would generally be responsible for their own financial support while the state would purchase a certain level of access for residents, thus creating a market rate differential between tuition for residents and non-residents.

Bruce Hamlett, chief consultant for the California State Assembly Committee on Higher Education, said members have recently discussed such topics as improving time-to-degree, making transfers more efficiently, looking at student-fee differentials and improving per-student costs.

But Reed countered, “One thing I haven’t heard today is this: What is the state’s responsibility in funding higher education? Is it $10,000 per student? Is it $5,000 per student? $15,000?… That question doesn’t get asked in Sacramento. And No. 2: What is the state’s responsibility about access?”

Said Nussbaum: “The bottom line is when times get really tough, the state gets amnesia on its commitment to access and cuts the levels [of support] per student.” Currently at the community colleges, he said, there are 175,000 fewer students than projected by the Department of Finance for 2002. “It’s not because of fees,” Nussbaum said. “Our colleges cut thousands and thousands of course sessions because of budget cuts.”

Dynes said that despite the fiscal troubles, it is important to keep a positive outlook. “Even now, we are the envy of the world because somehow we have figured out how to attract the most creative, innovative people in the world…and that has to be retained throughout these difficult times.”

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