By Stanton A. Glantz, Professor of Medicine, UCSF
Once, California had abundant water and few foresaw the challenge of global warming. Governor Brown, recognizing that it is impossible to simply roll back the clock on these problems, is leading California to confront this changed reality with enormous efforts that have uncertain outcomes. But there is one problem in which the governor could roll back the clock to when California worked better: higher education.
Once, California’s three sector system of higher education – its Community Colleges, California State University, and the University of California – formed a high quality integrated system of accessible opportunity in which any California student could find an appropriate seat to advance their dreams. California had the best higher education system in the world, while it cost the state less, per student, than other states spent on higher education. And the system’s graduates built California.
Now, after years of budget cuts and privatization, students are paying more for less. The combination of high costs, increasing out-of-state students, and muddled Legislative policy is forcing students out of UC into CSU and the Community Colleges, which are, in turn, forcing the Community Colleges’ traditional students into for-profit “colleges” that cost taxpayers billions and leave students with nothing but debt.
Unlike the drought and global warming, we could roll back the clock and solve this problem overnight if Governor Brown provided the leadership to do it.
Governor Brown appropriately has recognized that high tuition is a problem, but his response is actually making the situation worse. He has started his Multi-Year Stable Funding Plan for higher education at the depths of the Great Recession when the schools were already terribly wounded. Then he has promised state funding increases for UC that are so small that when they are combined with tuition freezes they are actually further cuts, relative to inflation. Rather than gradually rebuilding California higher education, this plan is a guaranteed slow bleeding to death of California’s public higher education systems.
Rather than exacerbate the problem, Governor Brown should press the “reset” button on all of California higher education and restore what California had in 2000-1, the last time that our higher education system was healthy.
· Return fees to 2000 levels (adjusted for inflation), for example cutting fees from $13,200 to $5,300 at UC
· Return state funding per student to where it was
· Fund seats for the thousands of California students who have been pushed out of the system
· Roll out-of-state UC admissions back to where they were (a 2/3 cut)
· Roll back spending on administration to where it was before privatization stated (which would be an 8% cut in total cost of UC’s senior leadership)
Doing so would restore quality, affordability and opportunity to California’s students, wipe out almost all new student debt, and stop forcing students out of the community colleges into predatory private schools.
Pushing the reset button is affordable. If done as an income tax surcharge, it would cost half of California’s families less than $31 a year and 40% of them under $10 a year. (And it would only cost millionaires $5000.)
A coalition of stakeholder organizations representing students and employees across all three systems has come together to press not only for full funding but also for a re-commitment to the California Master Plan for Higher Education. Reclaim California Higher Education
(www.reclaimcahighered.org/) advocates for a return to the vision of higher education affordability, accessibility, and quality for all Californians.
This spring, its members are talking to legislators across the state, urging them to restore adequate state funding to higher education, starting with the pending 2015-16 state budget. Now is the time to implement both increased state investment and institutional reforms. As the group stated in a letter to Gov. Brown in early March, “Tuition and administrative costs are skyrocketing, while enrollment of in-state students is not keeping pace with the needs of our economy. Our institutions of higher learning should, once again, be engines of economic growth and good jobs in our communities.”
Restoring the promise of California higher education is something that we can and should do. And, unlike the drought and global warming, it is something we can accomplish right now.
Stanton A. Glantz, PhD, is Professor of Medicine and American Legacy Foundation Distinguished Professor of Tobacco Control at UCSF, vice president of the Council of UC Faculty Associations, and past chair of the UC Systemwide Committee on Planning and Budget