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Colleges brace for further cuts

POSTED December 20, 2011 9:58 p.m.

The cuts keep coming to California’s higher education system.

Last week, the state announced it will cut $100 million from the California State University system, the University of California system, and the California Community College system, as part of $1 billion in trigger cuts.

The trigger cuts, enacted by the legislature as part of the 2011-2012 state budget, balanced the budget by forcing further, pre-calculated cuts to various programs and services should tax revenues fall short of projections. Last week, the state calculated tax receipts $2.2 billion below expectations.

With the newest cut, the CSU system’s budget has been reduced by $750 million in 2010 – 27 percent, year-over year. The move brings the system down to $2 billion in total state funding, the lowest level since the 1997-1998 school year, despite now serving an additional 90,000 students.

“It is disheartening to say the least when your budget is cut by an initial $650 million, but to face an additional $100 million reduction mid-year makes things extremely challenging,” said CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed. “We were aware that this was a possibility, and our campuses have been planning accordingly. However, the uncertainty of the overall fiscal outlook for the state is not encouraging, and the CSU has run out of good options.”

The CSU has said it will not raise tuition mid-year or cut academic programs. Instead, campuses will draw on one-time reserves, delay equipment purchases, and cut back on facility maintenance to make ends meet.

Starting in fall 2012, CSU students will face a previously-approved 9 percent, $498 per year increase. CSU tuition will rise to $5,970 per year, before campus-specific fees which average an additional $1,047; since the 2006-2007 school year CSU annual tuition has increased 237 percent, or $3,450, from a $2,520 starting cost.

Despite the newest tuition increase, the CSU says further cuts to the system will likely be “extremely difficult” to manage, with the possibility of additional cuts to academic programs or further tuition increases.

The soaring cost of education, coupled with cuts to programs, led CSU Employees Union President Pat Gantt to characterize the cuts as yet another wound to California’s once-great higher education system.

“With today’s cuts, multiplied by many other severe cuts of the last few years and more that are sure to come over the next fiscal year or two, we are seeing death by a thousand cuts not just to the Master Plan but to the dream of affordable self-improvement through higher education,” Gantt said. “As increasingly expensive public higher education goes more and more beyond the reach of our middle class youth, the state loses one of its most powerful economic engines: a skilled, highly educated workforce. “

 

Community College tuition to increase

All of California’s higher education will be hit by the trigger cuts, with the University of California system losing a further $100 million, and the California Community College system foregoing an additional $102 million.

To balance budgets after those cuts, community colleges statewide will raise tuition $10 per unit, beginning in summer 2012, from $36 to $46 per unit. The fee increase is just the latest at California’s community colleges, where unit fees have increased nearly 80 percent since 2007.

In addition to the fee increase, community college students will see the impact of cuts in reduced course and service offerings.

 “Most of our colleges prepared for the possibility of mid-year budget cuts and planned spring 2012 course sections accordingly,” California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott said. “Where students are really going to feel the impact of the continuous reductions in state funding is in the area of student support services. Most of our campuses in the spring will have fewer part-time faculty, counselors, advisors, tutors, financial aid officers and others that are critical to helping our students accomplish their educational goals.”

Scott said the number of available course sections will be reduced between 5 and 15 percent, leading to longer wait lists, larger average class sizes – 31 students, from 29 – transfer and career centers which are only open for part of the academic year, and reduced services for disabled students.

The deep cuts to community colleges, CSU, and UC alike have led leaders throughout higher education to call for a rethinking of how the state budgets, and how the state will pay for the future of its higher education program.

“Our state must come up with an honest solution to California’s budget problem,” Scott said. “We can’t keep slashing higher education budgets and raising fees to cover the shortfalls and close the budget gaps. California’s families and students can’t plan for college costs. Fee increases, if necessary, should be moderate, gradual and predictable – that’s the only way we’ll be able to salvage the state’s renowned higher education system and provide a trained workforce to fuel our economy.”

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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