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Draft budget offers new funds for higher ed

Gov. Jerry Brown

On his wish list for the next fiscal year, Gov. Jerry Brown has put higher education right near the top.

California’s public colleges and universities, Brown said as he unveiled the state budget, “used to be four years and free. Now in many cases it’s six years and expensive.”

The past decade brought dramatic upturns to student higher education costs,  a result of a cash-strapped state budget and an overall national economic downturn. The hikes have far outstripped the increases in the cost of living.

For the California Community Colleges, Brown proposes to eliminate all remaining outstanding deferral debt owed by the state that in the 2011-12 fiscal year reached a high of $961 million.

California’s public universities nearly doubled their system-wide tuition and fees from 2007 through 12 — sometimes even twice within the same year and without any heads up to students and families paying the bill.

But the governor’s 2014-15 budget calls for a 10.8 percent increase in General Fund money going toward higher education, with $142.2 million allotted for both the University of California and California State University systems to avoid additional student tuition and fee increases.

For the California Community Colleges, Brown proposes to eliminate all remaining outstanding deferral debt owed by the state that in the 2011-12 fiscal year reached a high of $961 million.

Given the modest growth in state finances, Brown believes he also has the momentum to make the first installment of a four-year investment plan that will give both the UC and CSU “steady and predictable” General Fund money through the next three budgeting cycles.

“It helps them in two ways: by holding tuition flat and by encouraging the university and the colleges to enable students to get through within four years, instead of the much longer period that seems to increasingly be the order of the day,” Brown said.

“In addition, while I appreciate that the Governor assumes no fee increases at CSUs and UCs, more needs to be done to ensure access for our lowest income students,” Williams said.

The multi-year investments, according to the governor’s budget, are subject to the state’s universities meeting expectations that include: maintaining affordability, decreasing the student degree completion time, increasing the number of students completing programs, and improving the transfer of community college students to four-year colleges and universities.

“[T]he proposed budget will enable the University to improve existing programs and services, and maintain tuition at the current rate for the fourth consecutive year,” CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White said in a prepared statement.

But the investment made this year through the General Fund is not enough to prevent California’s students from being turned away, says Assemblymember Das Williams, chair of the Legislature’s Committee on Higher Education. Though Williams commends the governor’s increased funds to community colleges, he is concerned about the failure to fund enrollment increases.

“In addition, while I appreciate that the Governor assumes no fee increases at CSUs and UCs, more needs to be done to ensure access for our lowest income students,” Williams said. “I encourage the Governor to prioritize funding for enrollment and access in the May Revise.”

“The University of California will continue working with the governor and the Legislature to recognize funding priorities for enrolling more California first-time freshmen and community college transfers,” according to UC’s vice pesident of budget and Capital Resources Patrick Lenz said in a statement.

Given last year’s modest surpluses, critics are also crying foul on the governor’s successful Prop 30 campaign to temporarily increase the state sales tax and income taxes on the state’s highest earners.

“Hey, if we knew everything at any moment about the future it would be a different kind of world,” Brown said at his budget press conference. “But certainly there was a lot of reductions particularly in our schools, so I think it was appropriate and I do think it was fair given the questions about inequality.”

“This increased investment, which returns the community college budget to pre-recession levels, is made possible by the approval of Proposition 30,” Scott Lay, President and CEO of the Community College League, noted in an email. “And, as promised, the budget proposes eliminating $592.4 million in “deferrals,” debt the colleges incurred to the state during the recession.”

 


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