Budget Cuts Hit California Campuses

The state government has slashed the higher education budget by nearly 17 percent.

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Born out of a vision to offer all residents access to higher education no matter the size of their paychecks, California's expansive higher education system is now dealing with budget cuts recently imposed by the state legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that could undermine its mission, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The state officials behind the cuts contend they had no other way to effectively close California's massive budget gap, but the schools that make up the system (including the campuses of the University of California, California State University, and community colleges) are already raising fees, dropping courses, slashing enrollment, and compelling employees to take unpaid furlough days. In addition, class sizes are up, library hours are down, and plans for new programs and new schools are on hold.

"The notion of the California dream, the idea that every adult could go to college, we've been hacking away at that during every recession for the past 25 years, and this year may well be it," says Patrick M. Callan, president of the San Jose-based National Center for Public Policy and Education. "We're coming out of this really tarnished."

The state's system of higher education educates 2.3 million students annually and has been credited with shaping California's once robust economy. The system and its benefits, as they look now, started in the 1960s when California approved a plan to give all state residents access to tuition-free, public higher education.

According to the state's Department of Finance, California is expected to spend about $8.7 billion in general revenue funds on the system, which will be a 17 percent drop from two years ago. The budget for UC and Cal State schools is about 20 percent less than two years ago, while community colleges have experienced a slightly smaller decrease in general revenue funds.

Beyond the cuts' direct effects, because of subsidiary changes, some students are unable to register for the classes they need, some are taking longer to finish their degrees, and top-notch faculty members are being wooed away to work for more financially healthy institutions.

UC President Mark Yudof said these changes do not mean that the system, touted as a model for other states and the rest of the world, has collapsed. "I don't think the sky has fallen yet," he says. "But I look at these trends and ask myself, how long can you reduce course offerings and still hold your head up and say you are still offering students a high-quality education?"