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California budget crisis hits students, education workers

Published Jul 30, 2009 10:54 PM

The economic crisis in California spells hardship at the state’s public universities as budgets are balanced through a combination of tuition hikes and pay cuts for faculty and other workers.

The California State University system recently raised student fees by 20 percent after the Board of Trustees voted 17-1 to approve the increase. CSU officials ignored hundreds of student demonstrators who came out to protest the fee increase.

CSU is the largest four-year university system in the country, and the fee hike will impact an estimated 450,000 students. CSU took the additional step of reducing enrollment by 40,000 students to further cut costs.

The California Faculty Association and California State Employees Union have approved separate agreements to furlough their members two days a month in response to pressure from university officials. The agreements affect approximately 39,000 CSU faculty and classified workers. By a wide margin, the faculty union voted no confidence in Chancellor Charles B. Reed’s leadership of CSU.

The fee increases, reduced enrollment and furloughs have not prevented CSU from planning hundreds of layoffs, a reduction of course offerings, and the elimination of entire academic programs.

CSU has a reputation as one of the most affordable university systems in the country. The system is sometimes referred to as the “People’s University” due to the large number of students who are poor, working class and people of color. The recent cuts amount to an attack on the right to quality higher education in California.

The University of California has not escaped the wrath of California’s economic crisis and misplaced budget priorities of state elected officials. UC recently announced that it expects to see an $813 million reduction in support from the state general fund.

As a result the UC Board of Regents voted to institute severe funding cuts on its 10 campuses and force 108,000 employees to take between 11 and 26 furlough days this year. The furloughs amount to a salary cut of up to 10 percent for affected workers.

Most UC campuses have already placed a hiring freeze on half of planned faculty hires. The system has seen 724 staff layoffs, with more expected. Freshman enrollment was earlier cut by 2,300 students, and a fee increase of 9 percent is in place for the fall semester. UC President Mark G. Yudoff has warned students to expect an additional fee increase in the winter.

The community college and K-12 system is also hit hard with double-digit cuts. The K-12 budget, which includes community colleges, lost $6.1 billion in funding. The community college system expects $936 million of that to come out of its budget.

The attacks on public higher education hit full throttle after Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic legislative leaders reached a deal to reduce funding for California’s university systems by 20 percent in an attempt to close the state’s $26 billion budget gap.

The extreme budget cuts mean that fewer students will have the opportunity to obtain a higher education in California. Those who are admitted into an institution of higher learning will be forced to pay more and attend longer in exchange for lower quality of education.