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California Is Destroying its Universities

On June 29, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the new state budget for the upcoming fiscal year. To close the state’s $26 billion budget deficit, lawmakers included harsh cuts to state agencies, but none were as severe as those to the state’s public universities and colleges. This new spending plan is the latest blow to California’s renowned higher education system, which could have devastating effects on the state's economy.

The state’s two premiere systems of higher education were each cut by $650 million, and could face up to $100 million more if revenue expectations do not turn up. For both tiers, the $650 million is roughly 20% of their operating money from the state. These cuts will not only result in soaring tuition fees, but also diminish the reputation of California’s education system, which has long been seen as a model for public higher education.

It was the reformation of California’s public higher education system in 1960 that turned the state into an economic powerhouse; giving up this competitive advantage might be the worst thing that happens to the Golden State.

The Donahoe Higher Education Act of 1960 created the state’s two-tier system, with the University of California’s 10 campuses as its flagship and the California State University’s network of 23 campuses, which has provided nearly 2.5 million people with a college degree in the past 50 years.

College graduates have been the backbone of the state’s economic success, but with rising tuition fees, many students will not be able to afford a college education. Tuitions will increase about 20% this year, the latest in a series of steep hikes.

To fill those empty coffers, schools have boosted their efforts to recruit students from other states and international students, who both pay higher tuition fees; the ones left out are California applicants. To clarify how much more a school makes by enrolling a higher number of out-of-state or international students, we should take a look at the tuition fees at the University of California, Berkeley.

UC Berkeley is one of the highest ranked public universities in the nation, and demands $6,696.25 per semester from its in-state students for the academic year 2011-2012, compared to $18,135.25 for nonresident students. This means a nonresident student is worth almost three times as much as a California one.

To prevent the university from hunting out-of-state students, an advisory panel recommended not to lower its standards for out-of-state students who may pay higher tuition, but do not meet admissions criteria. The emphasis is that the advisory is only a recommendation. There is no official statement of any kind that would answer the question of how to fill the holes in the schools’ budgets caused by reduced state funding.

The plan of legislatures to put the burden of fixing the state’s budget on the shoulders of students could become the biggest mistake in California’s history. Education is what keeps this country moving forward, and if people cannot afford education, there will be stagnation. In the long run, this new budget plan might be worse for California’s economy than the current recession.

Photo CreditWikimedia Commons

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