PPIC Poll: Funding for higher education is inadequate

A strong majority of Californians say state funding for higher education is inadequate and most would favor more spending on public colleges and universities even if it means less money for other state programs. These are the findings of a statewide survey released this week by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

A poor economy and persistent state budget deficit have taken a notable toll on Californians’ views about state funding for public higher education in the PPIC survey — taken before the state legislative analyst projected a $25.4 billion budget shortfall over the next 18 months.

The full report, a PDF file,  can be seen here.

Today, 74 percent of residents say the state does not provide enough money for colleges and universities, up 17 points from October 2007 (57 poercent). Most Californians (68 percent) believe that spending for public higher education should be given a high or very high priority—a 14-point increase from November 2008 (54 percent)—and 57 percent favor spending more on higher education even at the expense of other programs. Most (62 percent) are very concerned that the state budget situation will cause significant spending cuts in higher education, up 14 points from November 2008 (48 percent).

As Californians overall have grown more concerned about funding for higher education, parents’ concerns about paying for their children’s college education have also increased. Today, 57 percent of parents with children 18 or younger are very worried about being able to afford college (43 percent October 2007, 46 percent November 2008, 50 percent November 2009). Concern is especially high today among Latino parents, with 72 percent very worried about being able to pay for college—up 19 points since 2007.

“Residents see higher education as crucial—to personal success and to California’s future,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “They are clearly worried about the state’s ability to fund public colleges and universities that are high quality and widely accessible.”

What steps would residents be willing to take to raise revenue for colleges and universities? They are divided on whether they would pay higher taxes to maintain current funding (49% yes, 49% no), with a strong partisan divide (64% of Democrats yes, 51% of independents and 69% of Republicans no).

However, Californians’ willingness to pay higher taxes has increased over the last year (41 percent yes, 56 percent no in 2009). And they are much more likely to favor raising their own taxes than to raising student fees to maintain current funding (35% yes, 62% no). Opposition to raising student fees holds across party lines (63 percent Democrats, 60 percent Republicans, 59 percent independents). (The PPIC survey was taken before the University of California proposed, and California State University approved, fee increases earlier this month.)

A majority of adults (57 percent) support another idea under consideration: admitting more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition. But support drops to 26 percent if doing so would mean that fewer California students would be admitted.

Asked about measures colleges and universities have already taken to deal with decreased state funding, Californians are most likely to be very concerned about increasing tuition and fees for students (65 percent), followed by admitting fewer students (62 percent), offering fewer classes (59 percent), and reducing the pay and hours for college faculty and staff (46 percent).

Nearly all Californians say that given all of the issues facing the new governor in 2011, planning for the future of the state’s higher education system is very important (76 percent) or somewhat important (21 percent). However, confidence in the state government’s ability to plan for the future of California higher education is not high: most residents (57 percent) have very little or no confidence in the government’s ability to so, while 40 percent have some or a great deal of confidence. This is a reversal from 2007, when 57 percent had some or a great deal of confidence in the state’s ability to plan for the system’s future.

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