Middle class tuition break at UC, CSU

Four Republican legislators crossed party lines in the Assembly on Wednesday, providing the two-thirds vote needed to approve a bill that would create a middle class scholarship program for the state’s public college and university students.

AB 1501 is part of a two-bill package called the Middle Class Scholarship Act introduced by Assembly speaker John A. Pérez, a Los Angeles Democrat, that would reduce tuition by two-thirds for students attending the University of California and California State University whose families earn less than $150,000 a year.

In urging a yes vote, Pérez cited the enormous fee hikes at the state’s public colleges and universities, noting that in the past decade tuition has increased by 191 percent at Cal State, by 145 percent at the University of California, and by 300 percent at community colleges. Meanwhile, state support for UC and CSU has dropped by 21 percent and 26 percent respectively since 2005.

10 year history of changes in CSU tuition. (Source: California State University). Click to enlarge.
Ten-year history of changes in CSU tuition. (Source: California State University.) Click to enlarge.

“This means that for thousands of California families, higher education entails increasingly difficult tradeoffs,” said Pérez; tradeoffs that would either compel parents to make huge sacrifices, or force students to take on massive loan debt. “For many Californians those tradeoffs are too great, and they make the reluctant decision to forego a higher education altogether.”

Student loan debt now exceeds $1 trillion nationally, more than all U.S. credit card debt. Statewide, according to the California Student Aid Commission, there’s been a double-digit increase every year for the past three years in the number of students who qualify for loans and for the state’s Cal Grant awards.

Under AB 1501, eligible Cal State students would save $4,000 per year, or $16,000 over four years, while UC students would save about $8,200 per year, or nearly $33,000 over a four-year period. Students from families earning between $150,000 and $160,000 a year would be entitled to assistance at a lower level; their scholarships would be reduced by 10 percent for each $1,000 in family income over $150,000. California community colleges would receive $150 million to help students defray the cost of textbooks and offset other educational expenses.

Lack of investment “criminal”

Modesto Assemblymember Kristin Olsen, vice chair of the Higher Education Committee and one of the Republicans who broke ranks and supported the measure, defended her position during the floor debate as a vote for the state’s economic prosperity.

“We have slashed state investment in higher education, and that’s criminal,” Olsen said. “One of the only ways we’re going to grow a strong economy over the long term is by investing in our public universities to make sure that we are graduating educated employees who are prepared to compete in a global workforce.”

She noted that wealthy families can afford to pay tuition, and low-income families have various options for state and federal aid, but middle-income families are being hit hard by escalating tuition and the faltering economy.

But her colleague in the GOP caucus, Assemblymember Tim Donnelly from Twin Peaks, wasn’t moved, except to sarcasm. “I see these programs and they sound so nice – middle class scholarship fund – woo-hoo, hallelujah, Praise the Lord! I love it, sounds wonderful, why don’t we give one to everybody?” he quipped. “Oh yeah, there’s a slight little problem: we don’t have the money.”

Donnelly blamed union wage demands and injudicious spending decisions by UC and CSU for their financial problems, especially giving huge pay raises to new campus presidents while increasing student fees. Then he offered this sage advice: “I remember when I went to school. I went to the University of California at Irvine; I got three jobs to pay my way through. My idea of a middle class scholarship is a job.”

Half a loaf

While there is some disagreement among Republicans on AB 1501, they are united in their opposition to its companion bill, AB 1500. This is the half that pays for the Middle Class Scholarship Act.

Pérez wants to fund it by closing a loophole in the 2009 Corporation Tax Law that gave companies operating in both California and another state the option of computing their taxes using either the Single Sales Factor (SSF), which is based on their California sales, or another formula that gives the companies more flexibility on how much taxes they’ll pay. The policy was adopted in one of those never-well-thought-through budget deals reached in the middle of the night.

Requiring those companies to move to the SSF would increase the state’s general fund by about $1 billion in 2013-14, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. In fact, the LAO recommended that the state take that action two years ago.

Gov. Brown tried to change the law last year, by getting bipartisan support for AB 40X. The bill would have mandated the SSF and returned the revenue to businesses in the form of job credits as an incentive for hiring Californians. Although it passed the Assembly, the bill did not garner any GOP support in the Senate and died.

One of the sponsors of AB 40X was Assembly Republican Cameron Smyth of Santa Clarita. He’s also one of the four Republicans who voted yesterday for AB 1501. But in a phone call Wednesday afternoon, Smyth said he will not be supporting AB 1500.

“It would be another funding obligation from the state,” said Smyth. “I still think the Single Sales Factor needs to be reexamined, but I do have concerns, because unlike last year, this bill is a tax increase and it creates a new entitlement.”

Kristin Olsen and the other two Republicans who voted for AB 1501 – Katcho Achadjian from San Luis Obispo and Jeff Gorell of Camarillo – have also said they will not support the companion bill, but are willing to work with Speaker Pérez on finding a different funding source, such as savings from the governor’s pension reform proposal.

Assemblymember Olsen said adequate funding for public higher education ought to be a top priority in the general fund if California is committed to maintaining a premier public university system. But she’s not optimistic. “The direction that California is headed today, quite honestly, makes me fearful,” said Olsen, “and makes me question whether I will be able to send my three kids to college.”

‘Qualities of mind and heart’

For nearly two-and-a-half centuries Americans have fought and died to protect the nation’s fragile democracy. From the earliest days of the Union, the founding fathers recognized that maintaining freedom came with a cost and with a responsibility to ensure an educated citizenry.

President John F. Kennedy reaffirmed that conviction on June 6, 1963, in his commencement address to graduates of what was then known as San Diego State College. On this Memorial Day, we are sharing that speech as a reminder of a period in California’s not too distant past, when the Golden State led the nation in expanding the commitment to preparing future generations of educated citizens. Go here to listen to the president’s address. [Note:  All photos are courtesy of the San Diego State University Library, Special Collections.]

President Kennedy delivering the commencement address at San Diego State College on June 6, 1963.
President Kennedy delivering the commencement address at San Diego State College on June 6, 1963.

President Love, Governor Brown, Chairman Heilbron, trustees, fellow graduates, ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express a very warm sense of appreciation for the honor that you have given to me today, to be an instant graduate of this distinguished college. It is greatly appreciated and I am delighted to participate in what is a most important ceremony in the lives of us all.

One of the most impressive, if not the most impressive, accomplishments of this great Golden State has been the recognition by the citizens of this State of the importance of education as the basis for the maintenance of an effective, free society. This fact was recognized in our earliest beginnings at the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but I do not believe that any State in the Union has given more attention in recent years to educating its citizens to the highest level, doctoral level, in the State colleges, the junior colleges, the high schools, the grade schools. You recognize that a free society places special burdens upon any free citizen. To govern is to choose, and the ability to make those choices wise and responsible and prudent requires the best of all of us.San Diego State newspaper commemorating President Kennedy's visit.

No country can possibly move ahead, no free society can possibly be sustained, unless it has an educated citizenry whose qualities of mind and heart permit it to take part in the complicated and increasingly sophisticated decisions that pour not only upon the President and upon the Congress, but upon all the citizens who exercise the ultimate power.

I am sure that the graduates of this College recognize that the effort of the people of California – the Governor, the legislature, the local communities, the faculty – that this concentrated effort of mind and scholarship to educate the young citizens of this State has not been done merely to give this school’s graduates an economic advantage in the life struggle. Quite obviously, there is a higher purpose, and that is the hope that you will turn to the service of the State, the scholarship, the education, the qualities which society has helped develop in you; that you will render on the community level, or on the State level, or on the national level, or the international level a contribution to the maintenance of freedom and peace and the security of our country and those associated with it in a most critical time.

In so doing, you will follow a great and honorable tradition which combined American scholarship and American leadership in political affairs. It is an extraordinary fact of history, I think, unmatched since the days of early Greece, that this country should have produced during its founding days, in a population of a handful of men, such an extraordinary range of scholars and creative thinkers who helped build this country – Jefferson, Franklin, Morris, Wilson, and all the rest. This is a great tradition which we must maintain in our time with increasing strength and increasing vigor.

Those of you who are educated, those of us who recognize the responsibilities of an educated citizen, should now concern ourselves with whether we are providing an adequate education for all Americans, whether all Americans have an equal chance to develop their intellectual qualities, and whether we are preparing ourselves today for the educational challenges which are going to come before this decade is out.

President Kennedy delivering the commencement address at San Diego State, June 6, 1963. (Click to enlarge)
President Kennedy delivering the commencement address at San Diego State, June 6, 1963. (Click to enlarge)

The first question – and the most important –Does every American boy and girl have an opportunity to develop whatever talents they have? All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop those talents. Let me cite a few facts to show that they do not.

In this fortunate State of California the average current expenditure for a boy and girl in the public schools is $515, but in the State of Mississippi it is $230. The average salary for classroom teachers in California is $7,000, while in Mississippi it is $3,600. Nearly three-quarters of the young, white population of the United States have graduated from high school, but only about two-fifths of our nonwhite population has done the same.

In some States almost 40 percent of the nonwhite population has completed less than 5 years of school. Contrast it with 7 percent of the white population. In one American State, over 36 percent of the public school buildings are over 40 years of age. In another, only 4 percent are that old.

Such facts, and one could prolong the recital indefinitely, make it clear that American children today do not yet enjoy equal educational opportunities for two primary reasons: one is economic and the other is racial. If our Nation is to meet the goal of giving every American child a fair chance, because an uneducated American child makes an uneducated parent who, in many cases, produces another uneducated American child; we must move ahead swiftly in both areas.

And we must recognize that segregation and education, and I mean de facto segregation in the North as well as the proclaimed segregation in the South, brings with it serious handicaps to a large proportion of the population. It does no good, as you in California know better than any, to say that that is the business of another State. It is the business of our country, and in addition, these young uneducated boys and girls know no State boundaries and they come West as well as North and East, and they are your citizens as well as citizens of this country.

President Kennedy stands next to Governor Pat Brown as San Diego State President Malcolm Love speaks. (Click to enlarge)
President Kennedy stands next to Governor Pat Brown as San Diego State President Malcolm Love speaks. (Click to enlarge)

The second question relates to the quality of our education. Today 1 out of every 3 students in the fifth grade will drop out of high school, and only 2 out of 10 will graduate from college. In the meantime we need more educated men and women, and we need less and less unskilled labor. There are millions of jobs that will be available in the next 7 years for educated young men and women. The demand will be overwhelming, and there will be millions of people out of work who are unskilled because with new machines and technology there is less need for them. This combination of a tremendously increasing population among our young people, of less need for unskilled labor, of increasingly unskilled labor available, combines to form one of the most serious domestic problems that this country will face in the next 10 years.

Of Americans 18 years of age or older, more than 23 million have less than 8 years of schooling, and over 8 million have less than 5 years. What kind of judgment, what kind of response can we expect of a citizen who has been to school less than 5 years? And we have in this country 8 million who have been to school less than 5 years. As a result, they can’t read or write or do simple arithmetic. They are illiterate in this rich country of ours, and they constitute the hard core of our unemployed. They can’t write a letter to get a job, and they can’t read, in many cases, a help-wanted sign. One out of every 10 workers who failed to finish elementary school are unemployed, as compared to 1 out of 50 college graduates.

In short, our current educational programs, much as they represent a burden upon the taxpayers of this country, do not meet the responsibility. The fact of the matter is that this is a problem which faces us all, no matter where we live, no matter what our political views must be. “Knowledge is power,” as Francis Bacon said 500 years ago, and today it is truer than it ever was.

What are we going to do by the end of this decade? There are 4 million boys and girls born each year in the United States. Our population is growing each decade by a figure equal to the total population of this country at the time of Abraham Lincoln just 100 years ago. Our educational system is not expanding fast enough. By 1970 the number of students in our public elementary and secondary schools will have increased 25 percent over 1960. Nearly three-quarters of a million new classrooms will be needed, and we are not building them at that rate. By 1970 we will have 7 million students in our colleges and universities, 3 million more than we do today. We are going to double the population of our colleges and universities in 10 years. We are going to have to build as many school and college classrooms and buildings in 10 years as we did in 150 years.

By 1970 we will need 7,500 Ph. D.’s each year in the physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering. In 1960 we graduated 3,000. Such facts make it clear that we have a major responsibility and a major opportunity, one that we should welcome, because there is no greater asset in this country than an educated man or woman. Education, quite rightly, is the responsibility of the State and the local community, but from the beginning of our country’s history, from the time of the Northwest Ordinance, as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson recognized, from the time of the Morrill Act at the height of the Civil War, when the land grant college system was set up under the administration of President Lincoln, from the beginning it has been recognized that there must be a national commitment and that the National Government must play its role in stimulating a system of excellence which can serve the great national purpose of a free society. And it is for that reason that we have sent to the Congress of the United States legislation to help meet the needs of higher education, by assisting in the construction of college academic facilities, and junior colleges, and graduate centers, and technical institutes, and by stepping up existing programs for student loans and graduate fellowships and other student assistance programs.

We have to improve, and we have so recommended, the quality of our teachers by expanding teacher training institutes, by improving teacher preparation programs, by broadening educational research and by authorizing – and this is one of our greatest needs – increased training for teachers for the handicapped: the deaf, and those who can’t speak, and those who are otherwise handicapped. And it is designed to strengthen public elementary and secondary education through grants to the States for better teachers’ salaries, to relieve critical classroom shortages, to meet the special educational problems of depressed areas, and to continue and expand vocational education and counseling.

And finally, we must make a massive attack upon illiteracy in the year 1963 in the United States by an expansion of university extension courses and by a major effort to improve our libraries in every community of our country.

I recognize that this represents a difficult assignment for us all, but I don’t think it is an assignment from which we should shrink. I believe that education comes at the top of the responsibilities of any government, at whatever level. It is essential to our survival as a Nation in a dangerous and hazardous world, and it is essential to the maintenance of freedom at a time when freedom is under attack.

I have traveled in the last 24 hours from Washington to Colorado to Texas to here, and on every street I see mothers standing with two or three or four children. They are going to pour into our schools and our colleges in the next 10 or 20 years and I want this generation of Americans to be as prepared to meet this challenge as our forefathers did in making it possible for all of us to be here today. We are the privileged, and it should be the ambition of every citizen to express and expand that privilege so that all of our countrymen and women share it. Thank you.

Community colleges hurt by CSU freeze

President Obama has called community colleges “the unsung heroes of America’s education system.” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “no other system of higher education in the world does so much to provide access and second-chance opportunities as our community colleges.” Yet community colleges can’t catch a break.

Two days after California State University announced unprecedented curbs in enrollment, including closing down applications for the spring 2013 semester and possibly wait-listing all freshmen applicants for the following fall, the state’s community colleges are assessing the damage.

“It’s a double whammy,” said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the Campaign for College Opportunity in Los Angeles. “Students can’t get the courses they need to transfer and when they do, the doors are being shut.”

The Community College Chancellor’s office estimates that several hundred thousand students have been turned away in recent years because $800 million in budget cuts since 2008-09 has forced the schools to eliminate thousands of classes.  Closing off spring admission will knock out another 16,000 or more, mostly community college transfer students.

“If the students can’t get in in the spring, it simply means they’re with us longer,” said Brian Murphy, president of De Anza Community College in Cupertino. “I think for a lot of them, the notion is I’ll complete more units and reapply.”

Annual number of community college transfers to CSU, UC, In-state private and out-of-state private four year colleges.  (Source:  CA Community College Chancellor's office). Click to enlarge.
Annual number of community college transfers to CSU, UC, in-state private, and out-of-state private four-year colleges. (Source: CA Community College Chancellor's office). Click to enlarge.

De Anza has one of the highest transfer rates to UC and CSU of all the community colleges. It sent more than 1,400 students to Cal State schools last year. Statewide, the number is close to 57,000 transfers. If those students can’t move on, they either leave school halfway to their goals or stay in community college and wait, because the process of getting into CSU as a current community college student is easier than as a former student.

That will put those already hard-to-get classes even further out of reach as students who normally would have moved on remain in community college, taking up seats that should be going to new students. That creates a backup in the cycle of the system, explained Rich Copenhagen, a member of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges. “We’re very concerned that this will make students not pursue higher education at community colleges because they’ll be less likely to transfer, which will have an impact on the future of the state.”

Ever since the Cal State announcement, Copenhagen said his classmates in the Peralta Community College District have been contacting him. Copenhagen says students are worried. “The amount of concern I’m getting is unusual,” he said, but attributes it to how close to home this hits. “People don’t tend to identify with the cuts until it directly affects them. A lot of people aspire to transfer to CSU, so when CSU proposes cutting transfers it raises a lot of red flags.”

Impacted wisdom

The only exceptions are students in one of the majors established through SB 1440, the Student Transfer Reform Act of 2010, that created a seamless and guaranteed transfer pathway from community college to Cal State. Since it’s so new, just a few hundred students are affected. But even their choices are limited.

Of the 23 campuses in the CSU system, only eight are available for SB 1440 students: Channel Islands, Chico, East Bay, Fullerton, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Francisco, and Sonoma. The Chancellor’s Office is trying to spread the load so no one campus is overwhelmed. There’s no guarantee that students will be admitted to the campus closest to where they live, however, even though community college students tend to have ties to their local communities.

“They are disproportionately students of color, and what we know about students of color is that they’re more likely to have family relationships that require them to stay at home,” said Scott Lay, president and CEO of the Community College League of California. And that, said Lay, gets into important economic and social justice issues.

A number of Cal State colleges are on the verge of, or are already affected for regular admissions, meaning they have reached their enrollment limits in some or all majors. Once that happens, the campus can raise admission requirements.

Fullerton, San Diego, and San Luis Obispo are over-enrolled in every major and this week, San Jose State is holding required public hearings before announcing their designation. That troubles De Anza’s Murphy. He said about 60 percent of his transfer students go to San Jose State, and nearly three-quarters of his students have full-time jobs.

“Being told that there’s a spot for you in Southern California is what we might call an illusory admission,” said Murphy. “The number of working-class students who can disrupt their entire lives to go to another part of the state is an admission without meaning.”

These barriers are butting up against efforts to increase college completion rates in California and nationwide. CSU’s Graduation Initiative seeks to increase its graduation rate by 8 percent by 2015-16. The Student Success Task Force just spent a year studying the best ways to boost community college completion at the behest of the Legislature. Yet many of those same lawmakers continue to approve budgets with hundreds of millions in higher education cuts.

“There can be lots of pious talk about completion rates and graduation rates,” said Murphy, “but none of it has the ability to trump the cutbacks in recent years.”

A push for free college textbooks

During his nearly four years at UC Berkeley, Lucas Zucker has gone to great lengths to find affordable textbooks. He shopped online for the best deals and often waited weeks into the semester for the books to arrive from across the country; he shared books with classmates; he bought older editions with identical content that was rearranged; and one semester he didn’t buy some books because they were just too expensive.

“I couldn’t imagine what could possibly make any book cost $200,” the senior told members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee at a hearing Wednesday afternoon.

Increases in textbook prices now outpace the rate of fee increases at the University of California and California State University, testified State Auditor Elaine Howle. As part of a 2008 report prepared at the committee’s request, Howle’s office surveyed students and found the average price of textbooks represents about 13 percent of the cost of a UC education, 22 percent at Cal State, and 59 percent for community college students – more than they pay for classes.

A survey by the consumer group CALPIRG revealed that 70 percent of students found themselves in the same predicament as Zucker and didn’t buy at least one required textbook due to the cost.

Student fees at UC and CSU rose by about 18 percent from 2004–05 through 2007–08, while the retail price for the textbooks increased by 28 percent. (Source: California Auditor) Click to enlarge.
Student fees at UC and CSU rose by about 18 percent from 2004–05 through 2007–08, while the retail price for the textbooks increased by 28 percent. (Source: California Auditor) Click to enlarge.

At a time when fees at California’s public colleges and universities are rising faster than an econ major can calculate the rate of inflation, the added burden of spending thousands of dollars on books is the college deal breaker for some students. So the committee focused much of the three-hour hearing on what California is doing to develop free digital texts.

“We have a completely broken system,” said former state senator Dean Florez, now president and CEO of 20 Million Minds Foundation, a nonprofit working to provide open source texts than can be modified by professors to create customized books for their classes. “Digital gives us a unique opportunity to end used books, to say that students can purchase a new, up-to-date book every time for the lowest possible cost.”

A number of companies have already entered the arena, the splashiest being Apple, which last month unveiled its new iBooks 2 digital textbook service for the iPad. It features interactive animation, photos, videos, and other cool tools, but requires cash-strapped schools to buy iPads for every student.

Nonprofits and foundations are offering something that’s more within reach.

“Access and affordability are integrally linked,” said Barbara Chow, Education Program Director for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. She told the panel research has shown that while rental and e-books can reduce costs, “open educational texts are the clear winners,” reducing textbook prices by as much as 80 percent.

Chow noted that a number of universities outside California have made significant advances in access and quality of the online materials.  Although there is an upfront cost of producing the materials, she said the savings can quickly catch up.  An open course library in the state of Washington recouped its start-up costs in the first year.

Arizona State University took it a step further.  A machine in the bookstore lets students print open source texts for $20, so they have a hard copy to write notes in the margins and highlight passages.

In 2008, Hewlett invested $10 million in grants to develop Open Educational Resources (OER), including more than half a million dollars to the Foothill-De Anza Community College District to pilot the Community College Open Textbook Project. It’s now affiliated with more than 200 colleges and conducts peer reviews of open source textbooks and works to raise awareness of the online books among faculty.

Even though open source gives faculty more control over their course materials, many have been slow to take to it.  “There are real challenges here with this new world of multiple formats,” explained James Postma, chair of the CSU Academic Senate.  “Faculty have to play the role of technical troubleshooters.  It has changed the job of faculty.”  For instance, Postma has to develop correlation guides so students know where to find the reading assignments depending on whether they’re using an iPad, iPod or laptop.

In December, State Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg made open source a key legislative initiative with a proposal to create Open Educational Resources in California that would give undergraduates free access to fifty core textbooks, and let them buy printed copies for about $20.  He said the legislation would save students nearly $1,000 a year.  [Click here to watch a YouTube video of his press conference announcing the proposal].

Textbook publishers weren’t vilified at the hearing, but they were taken to the woodshed for their practice of publishing new editions every few years that have minimal changes in content, but move the chapters around enough to make it confusing for students working with earlier versions.  For that, they up the price by about 12 percent.

Bruce Hildebrand, Executive Director of the Higher Education Division of the Association of American Publishers, walked a fine line at the hearing, wanting to play nicely while not giving up too much profit. “We were committed to the [state auditor’s] report, but as you can expect, we were cautious,” said Hildebrand.  “It’s going to have to be a partnership.  Are our prices coming down?  Yes, in some instances.”

Publishers may want to get those partnerships going sooner than later if they hope to remain relevant and solvent.  Groups like 20 Million Minds have already created a lot of alternative materials and there’s a demand for more, especially from students, said CSU’s Postma. “The term textbook is almost obsolete in this world.”

Budget: more control, little cash

California schools could gain billions or once again face the threat of a midyear budget cut under the 2012-13 budget proposal released in Sacramento yesterday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

At a hastily called news conference, held after the budget was accidentally posted days ahead of schedule on his finance department’s website, the Governor presented a plan for closing the

Gov. Brown presents 2012-13 budget in Sacramento
Gov. Brown presents 2012-13 budget in Sacramento

state’s $9.2 billion budget gap that’s contingent upon approval of his $7 billion tax initiative. And he presented the evil-twin plan in case the tax measure is defeated.

Brown said if voters support his plan to raise sales and income taxes in November “we will eliminate the budget deficit, finally, after years of kicking the can down the road.”

For K-12 schools and community colleges new tax revenues would bring an increase of $4.9 billion in 2012-13, for a total Proposition 98 funding level of $52.5 billion. That would boost per-pupil spending from $7,096 this year to $7,815 next year. But even if the tax plan wins, most of that money will be little more than a specter in classrooms. Brown’s proposal would use $2.1 billion to backfill this year’s deferral and another $2.1 billion to start paying off the $10 billion in deferrals already accrued.

What’s more, the plan still doesn’t provide for a cost of living increase of 3.1 percent, which would be added to a growing multi-billion IOU known as the maintenance factor.

Past, current and proposed per pupil funding. (source:  Governor's budget summary: 2012-13). Click to enlarge.
Past, current, and proposed per-pupil funding. (Source: Governor's budget summary: 2012-13). Click to enlarge.

Dan Troy, the Community College Vice Chancellor for Fiscal Policy, says he understands strategically why the governor wants to bring down the debt before funding new programs, but, at the same time, he says the colleges could really use the money after losing $102 million in last month’s midyear trigger cuts, raising fees by 77 percent in less than two years, and receiving no cost of living increase since 2007-08.

“Technically the $218 million does count,” said Troy, referring to the amount of money the state’s community colleges would gain under the budget plan. “We just can’t buy anything with it.”

Still, it’s better than more cuts, and that’s what will happen if voters don’t approve the governor’s tax plan, or one of the other initiatives to fund education that are currently competing for ballot space.

Two things would happen if the revenues don’t pass, said state Finance Director Ana Matosantos. First, it would trigger a $4.8 billion reduction in Prop 98 that would amount to the equivalent of three weeks of school. That doesn’t mean that the school year would be shortened by three weeks; it’s meant to illustrate how much money is at stake.

The other cut is more convoluted. It would shift or “rebench” the debt payments from the state’s K-14 general obligation bonds from the General Fund to Prop 98, giving schools and community colleges a brand new $2.4 billion expense. Ah, but it’s not all bad; Matosantos said that would preclude a suspension of Prop 98.

Consolidation consternation

Lost in much of the rollout yesterday was a sweeping change proposed to how schools are funded. The governor wants to move to a weighted-student formula, which you can read about today in John Fensterwald’s column.

Brown also wants to give local districts more decision-making power over how they spend their money, and he aims to do that by increasing flexibility for most remaining categorical programs (with the exception of federally-mandated programs, such as special education and foster care), even seemingly sacred cows like class size reduction.

“That means if they think they can save some money by adding a few kids to a class instead of something else then they can do that, that’s their choice,” said Brown. “I have confidence that the local democracy is at least as vigorous and as responsive as our statewide democracy.”

Some advocates and legislators are alarmed by the possible unintended consequences this could have on hard-won programs. Senator Joe Simitian’s (D-Palo Alto) legislation that just became law in 2010, which increases the kindergarten entrance age but provides funding for the younger children to attend transitional kindergarten, could be wiped out before it really gets going.

“The Administration’s budget proposal is a $700 million hit to K-12 education at the expense of 4-year-olds and their families,” said Simitian, referring to the three-year implementation costs for the program. “The notion that 250,000 parents and their 125,000 kids are no longer eligible to begin school in the fall is a non-starter.”

Another program that may be eliminated is Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, which provides extra study skills and support to help prepare high school students who could be the first in their family to attend college.

Higher Ed remains flat

The budget plan for the University of California and California State University is essentially status quo, which doesn’t sit well with CSU Chancellor Charles Reed. In a statement on the Cal State website, Reed said the governor’s proposed $2 billion for CSU is the lowest state support for the system in 15 years, even though Cal State enrolls 95,000 more students today than it did back then.

“We cannot continue down this budget path and expect that we can offer the same number of courses to the same number of students and maintain quality,” said Reed, adding that “we are just about out of options, and if the state does not begin to reinvest in the CSU, we will need to take more drastic measures including cutting enrollment and programs, raising tuition, and reducing personnel.”

Gov. Brown made a point of saying that he thinks higher education has been hit too hard already and he’d like to find a way of getting them more money to avoid any further tuition increases. So far, his budget plan doesn’t contain any specifics on how to do that, but it would chop another $100 million each from UC and CSU if the tax plan fails.

Gov. pulls trigger, hits education

(John Fensterwald coauthored this article.)

Midyear budget cuts hit California like a tornado on Tuesday, leaving public schools with less damage than anticipated while bearing down on state colleges and universities with full force. Gov. Jerry Brown announced that although state revenues rose, it wasn’t enough to stave off the so-called “trigger cuts” built into this year’s budget.

With revenues more than $2.2 billion below projections, Brown said the state has to cut another $1 billion in spending. Of that, about $328 million will come from K-12 education, which is significantly less than the $1.4 billion worst-case scenario.

There was no such reprieve for higher education; the University of California, California State University, and the state’s community college system will each lose an additional $100 million in the new year.

"We have to live within our means," said Gov. Brown in announcing nearly $1 billion in mid-year cuts. (source:  Governor's press conference) Click to enlarge.
"We have to live within our means," said Gov. Brown in announcing nearly $1 billion in midyear cuts. (Source: Governor's press conference) Click to enlarge.

I want to invoke a Latin phrase here,” said Brown at a press conference in the Capitol. “Nemo dat [quod] non habet; it means no man gives what he does not have. The state cannot give what it does not have.”

Several times during his comments, the governor acknowledged that he’s sensitive to the hardships the reductions will cause, but said the state has to live within its means or it will end up like Greece, Italy, and Spain, countries that overspent to excess and are now unable to climb out of the holes they dug.

Higher ed, higher fees

His argument didn’t sway critics, especially at the three college and university systems, which have already lost billions of dollars in state funding in recent years.

“The governor is the Grinch that stole Christmas,” said Foothill-De Anza Community College District Chancellor Linda Thor, only half jokingly. Although she knew the cuts were a strong probability, Thor said it still means another $2.8 million from her district ($3.3 million if you count the lack of cost-of-living increases), and that’s on top of $24.6 million in cuts over the last three years.

For the rest of the academic year Foothill-De Anza will dig into a rainy day fund established during better times, but that’s running low after several years of stormy economic weather.

What’s more, starting this summer student fees will jump from $36 a credit to $46. That’s far below the rest of the nation, but it’s still nearly $1400 a year for a full-time student, and community colleges have a high percentage of low-income students.

De Anza College awarded financial aid to more students in the current fall quarter than it did to all students in the entire 2010-11 academic year.

California State University students will also be paying more. Last month the Board of Trustees approved a 10 percent fee hike that will kick in next fall. CSU has already raised fees by 29 percent over the past year and a half.

“It is disheartening to say the least when your budget is cut by an initial $650 million, but to face an additional $100 million reduction midyear makes things extremely challenging,” said CSU Chancellor Charles Reed in a statement on the university’s website.

Cuts put brakes on school buses

Funding cuts for K-12 schools under Proposition 98 are a bit fuzzier. The governor and legislative leaders had predicted that revenues would rise $4 billion over the May revise amount.  If revenues were down by the full $4 billion, public schools would have been cut $1.4 billion, or about 3 percent.  Since revenues weren’t that low, schools will see a midyear total cut of $328 million, or about 0.7 percent. That’s an average of $55 per student.

But that’s not exactly how the governor presented it. Brown broke the reductions into two parts: First, a $79.6 million reduction in the basic school funding, called revenue limit funding. That’s the equivalent of about a half-day of school cut, instead of a potential elimination of a whole week.

The second cut is more substantial; a $248 million reduction in home-to-school transportation, in other words, school buses. Taken together, they amount to an average of $55 per student.

However, because school transportation funding primarily affects rural and low-income urban districts ­– and uses an outdated, quirky formula ­– the impact will vary widely among districts, from less than $7 per student in the 19,000-student Antioch Unified, to a whopping $638 per student in the 744-student Southern Humboldt Joint Unified.

Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district, which will be absorbing the biggest transportation hit of $38.6 million – $59 per student – announced that it plans to file suit today to halt the cut. The district contends that the cuts would violate a 30-year-old court mandate resulting from a desegregation lawsuit that set up magnet schools and a school choice program; 35,000 students in the district now take buses. At the same time, the alternative – cutting additional services to the classroom ­– would violate the state’s constitutional duty to provide equal educational opportunities.

“LAUSD cannot withstand further budget cuts without adversely impacting the educational benefits offered to its students,” Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement. “We stand with our students to say enough is enough.”

Transportation funding has huge disparities, because it’s based on a decades-old allocation formula that punishes districts that have grown rapidly. California is last in the nation in terms of the proportion of students bused to school: 14 percent, according to Stephen Rhoads, a lobbyist with Strategic Education Services in Sacramento who has focused on the transportation issue.

In his press conference, Brown characterized the transportation cut as flexible, giving districts the ability to backfill bus service by making cuts in other areas. But it’s not as easy as that. Rob Ball, associate superintendent of Twin Rivers Unified in Sacramento County, said that the district already reduced bus routes as much as it could, with some students now walking three miles to a bus stop. Buses also transport high school students through rough neighborhoods in North Sacramento to Grant High; eliminate transportation, and fewer students would show up to school, reducing the state’s tuition reimbursements. This year, said Ball, the district will take the $1 million transportation cut out of its reserves.

Rhoads said that heavily affected districts will lobby legislators to combine the transportation and revenue limit cuts, so that the pain is spread evenly among districts. The Education Coalition, representing the PTA and teachers, administrators, and school boards associations, expressed sympathy. The transportation cut will devastate transportation services and hit poor and neediest students the hardest, it said in a statement. “It will also put at risk the safety and lives of students who will be forced to walk on unsafe roads and through dangerous conditions.”

Brown’s low marks for higher ed

Californians are worried that the state’s public colleges and universities are underfunded and headed in the wrong direction, and they blame the Governor and legislature. Jerry Brown’s overall disapproval rating is 38 percent, but when higher education is singled out, 53 percent of residents say he’s not doing a good job, according to a new state survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Gov. Brown's approval rating on higher education. (Source: PPIC) Click to enlarge.
Gov. Brown's approval rating on higher education. (Source: PPIC) Click to enlarge.

But the Governor is an Oscar contender compared to the state legislature’s ratings; 70 percent of respondents gave lawmakers a thumbs down on overall job performance, and 71 percent disapprove of their handling of higher education.

“Most Californians say budget cuts have hurt public colleges and universities a lot,” said PPIC president and CEO Mark Baldassare in a written statement accompanying the poll’s release. “Their concerns about where the system is headed are reflected in the low grades they give their leaders for handling higher education.”

State legislature's higher education approval rating (Source:  PPIC) Click to enlarge.
State legislature's higher education approval rating (Source: PPIC) Click to enlarge.

PPIC has been conducting higher education surveys since 2007. For this one, they did telephone interviews, in five languages, during late October and early November, with 2,503 adults including likely voters and parents with children 18 or younger.

Other key findings

  • Affordability is a major concern. 61% say affording college is a big problem for students. 75% say students have to borrow too much money to pay for college.
  • 46% say that the purpose of college is to gain skills and knowledge for the workplace, while 35% say it’s for personal and intellectual growth.
  • 35% say the mission of community colleges should be preparing students to transfer to four-year colleges, while 29% say it is career technical or vocational education.
  • Only 23% of respondents say most students are prepared to do college-level work.
  • Three-fourths of residents say a racially diverse student body is very important (53%) or somewhat important (22%).
  • A majority of Californians believe that the three public higher education systems are doing an excellent or good job, although those numbers have fallen some since the 2007 survey.
  • A majority of Democrats and likely voters would support a ballot measure in 2012 to pay for new construction projects at state colleges and universities, while most Republicans would not.
  • 73% of Latinos – the largest of any ethnic and racial group – said a college education is necessary for a person to be successful in today’s work world. Whites, just 46%, were least likely to agree with that statement.

    College affordability (Source:  PPIC) Click to enlarge.
    College affordability (Source: PPIC) Click to enlarge.

It’s important, now leave me alone

Most people polled were well aware of the funding tsunami that’s swallowing California’s public colleges and universities, but they’re not yet ready to move to higher ground. Only 28 percent said the higher education system is headed in the right direction, and nearly two-thirds said the schools don’t get enough state funding, but few people want to pay more in taxes to boost their budgets. A little more than half – 52 percent – aren’t willing to increase taxes even to maintain the current inadequate funding levels, and 69 percent oppose any more fee hikes (like the 9 percent increase approved earlier this week by the California State University Board of Trustees, which we wrote about here).

Michele Siqueiros, Executive Director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, issued a statement about that paradox between beliefs and actions. “Without additional revenues or a shifting of current revenues to higher education, the future does not look promising in terms of producing the one million additional college graduates the state needs by 2025.”

In the absence of a willingness by Californians to pay more, Siqueiros said the state needs to make tough choices. “More than ever, we have to be more vigilant about policy reforms that prioritize the limited resources we do have to protect access and increase student success.”

Preemptive action over protests

The University of California has canceled this week’s Board of Regents meeting, after UC police said they had “credible intelligence” that violent protests could threaten public safety.

Their information indicated “that rogue elements intent on violence and confrontation with UC public safety officers were planning to attach themselves to peaceful demonstrations expected to occur at the meeting,” UC officials said in a written statement released Monday.

The Board’s bimonthly meeting was scheduled to take place Wednesday and Thursday at the UC San Francisco Mission Bay campus.

Sherry Lansing, head of the Regents, specifically asked the police if this was just about protests, which have become the norm at Board meetings in recent years, said UC’s Media Relations Director, Steve Montiel. “They assured her that this went beyond that,” he said.

Faced with that warning, Lansing and UC President Mark Yudof decided that allowing the meeting to take place “might constitute a reckless disregard of credible law enforcement intelligence.”

Montiel said he didn’t know if the threats came from some of the outside agitators who have disrupted the Occupy Oakland protests, but UC students said the Regents are overreacting to the Occupy movement and should have been better prepared to deal with this type of situation.

The UC police department “deals with student demonstrations on a regular basis, and their top priority should be ensuring students’ ability to demonstrate safely,” said UC Student Association President Claudia Magana.

The UC Student Association is a part of ReFund California, a statewide coalition of students, teachers, and many of the same people involved in the Occupy movement. Organizers said they expected at least a thousand people at this week’s meeting for a peaceful protest to raise the Occupy mantra that regents should look to the 1% to fund public colleges and universities rather than cutting their budgets and raising tuition.

“By canceling this meeting, the UC Regents have done a great disservice to students and our ability to participate in the governance of our University system,” Magana said.

Cal State faces tuition hike and faculty strike

Trustees of California State University are going ahead with their regular meeting today and tomorrow with extra security. The Board is scheduled to vote on its $2.4 billion 2012-13 budget request, which asks the state to restore $333 million, about half of what was cut this year. Tuition and campus fees make up the remaining $2 billion of CSU’s operating budget.

Students may be picking up even more of those costs. CSU Chancellor Charles Reed said he’ll also ask the trustees to approve a 9% tuition hike for the fall of 2012 that would kick in if the state doesn’t approve at least $138 million of the requested budget increase.

“We want to be able to give as much notice to students and parents as possible that if the state doesn’t give us the needed revenue to operate, tuition will go up in the fall of 2012,” said Reed during a telephone call with reporters Monday morning.

Source:  CSU Board of Trustees' Committee on Finance agenda, Nov. 16, 2012.  (Click to enlarge)
Source: CSU Board of Trustees' Committee on Finance agenda, Nov. 16, 2012. (Click to enlarge)

CSU undergraduates were already hit with a 23% hike this year, boosting tuition to $5,472.  Add on campus fees, and costs rise to as much as $7,000.

Then there’s the elephant waiting just outside the room until December, when CSU could lose another $100 million if state revenues don’t increase enough and the Governor pulls the budget trigger. The plan for that, said Reed, is to cover the cuts with the last of their reserves.

So when asked if CSU could find $20 million for faculty raises agreed to in the 2008 contract, Reed answered sharply, “We cut about $15 million out of our budget this year, so the answer is no, we don’t have it.”

That conflict sparked the California Faculty Association’s (CFA) first ever strike at CSU. The union has called for a one-day walkout this Thursday at two campuses – Dominguez Hills in Southern California and East Bay in Northern California.

The argument is over one-quarter of one percent of CSU’s budget, said Kim Geron, Vice President of the CFA, and a political professor at Cal State East Bay. He pointed out that faculty have made concessions, including a 10%  furlough in 2009.

“I think our faculty are fed up,” said Geron. He’s expecting  a large turnout from each of the two schools, and from supporters at other campuses who can catch rides on union chartered buses.

Chancellor Reed, on the other hand, is convinced that most professors will show up for class. “I just have a lot of faith that we are going to accommodate our students,” he said.

But he’s putting on extra security at both campuses just in case.

Governor Brown signs Dream Act

Governor Brown fulfilled a campaign pledge today to extend financial aid to deserving undocumented college students by signing the California Dream Act into law.

AB 131, by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), allows students – whether U.S. citizens from other states or undocumented students – who meet specific criteria to apply for Cal Grants at the University of California and California State University, and for fee waivers at California community colleges.

“Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking,” said Brown in a statement announcing his action Saturday morning. “The Dream Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us.”

AB 131 is part of a two-bill Dream Act package introduced by Cedillo. Brown also signed the other measure, AB 130, which permits undocumented students at UC and CSU to apply for private financial aid administered by the universities, in July.

Cedillo thanked the governor for giving “hope and opportunity to thousands of current and future students and their families,” and said that by signing both bills, Brown “will send a message across the country that California is prepared to lead the country with a positive and productive vision for how we approach challenging issues related to immigration.”

Cedillo has tried five times to enact similar legislation. Four times it was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. A fifth measure died in the state Senate.

The new laws apply to students who meet the requirements of AB 540. The 2001 bill, which was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, allows any student who attended a California high school for at least three years, graduated or earned a GED, and is in the process of applying for U.S. citizenship to pay in-state tuition rates at California’s public colleges and universities.

An analysis completed for the state senate found that AB 540 students accounted for less than three-tenths of a percent of students at UC, and that 70 percent of them were U.S. citizens or immigrants with legal status.

At CSU, about 3,633 students are classified as AB 540, while community colleges granted AB 540 waivers to a little more than 34,000 students. In both cases that amounts to less than 1 percent of the total enrollment; however, Cal State and community colleges don’t know how many of those students are undocumented and how many are legal immigrants or Californians who left the state for a time after high school and returned years later for college or graduate school.

According to Brown’s office, the California Department of Finance estimates that 2,500 students will qualify for Cal Grants under AB 131, at a cost of $14.5 million. That’s about 1 percent of the total Cal Grants program of $1.4 billion.

Both bills passed the Legislature on almost completely party-line votes. The sole exception was Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres), who voted for AB 130.

Opponents say the law will invite further illegal immigration to California, draining resources that aren’t even adequate for legal residents. “Every additional dollar the state spends on illegal immigrants is a dollar it cannot spend on students who are here legally,” wrote Assemblyman Jim Silva (R-Huntington Beach) in an Op-Ed in the Orange County Register.

Supporters counter that by allowing undocumented students to earn college degrees, California’s revenue would increase by about $15 million a year.

The California Dream Act takes effect on January 1, 2013.

CALPADS goes to college

California’s student data system has reached another milestone.  By linking the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, known as CALPADS, with two other data systems, state education officials tracked for the first time the number of high school graduates who enrolled in college – in and out of state.

2009 California high school graduates' enrollment in UC, CSU and community colleges.  Source California Postsecondary Education Commission. (Click to enlarge)
2009 California high school graduates' enrollment in UC, CSU and community colleges. Source: California Postsecondary Education Commission. (Click to enlarge)

They found that nearly three-quarters of the 382,514* high school graduates in the class of 2009 enrolled in a college or university.  More than 25,000 went to the University of California, some 44,000 enrolled in California State University, 109,000 went to a California community college, and the rest attended private colleges either in California or in another state.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson hailed the numbers as a step toward gaining a foothold in the new economy.  “In a knowledge-based economy, college and career training are becoming the price of admission to the job market,” said Torlakson in a statement released Thursday.  “So it’s good to see so many California graduates taking the next step on the path to success.”

CALPADS has had a shaky path since it was first approved in 2002.  Most recently, Gov. Brown sought to defund the data system over the summer, but wound up keeping the student system and eliminating the teacher data system, CALTIDES.

The college enrollment statistics were generated by matching student data from CALPADS with two other data systems: the National Student Clearinghouse and the California Postsecondary Education Commission (which has also been decommissioned by Gov. Brown).

“We’re now starting to track this stuff in a systematic way, which is a good thing,” said UC Santa Barbara Education Professor Russ Rumberger, founder of the California Dropout Research Project. “Now we have better and newer information than we’ve had before. Now we can see trends.”

Earlier this week, the Data Quality Campaign held a bipartisan meeting with members of Congress to discuss the need for using data to help students succeed in college.  “That’s the big issue; it’s not getting them in, it’s getting them out,” said Rumberger.  “That’s the whole push in our state today, to get them [high school students] better prepared.”

As we’ve noted in this space many times, college graduation rates, particularly for community colleges, are in dire need of improvement. The six-year graduation rates at

Costs and graduation rates at California state colleges and universities.  Source:  Public Policy Institute of California.  (click to enlarge)
Costs and graduation rates at California state colleges and universities. Source: Public Policy Institute of California. (click to enlarge)

the University of California and Cal State are 80.5 percent and just over 47 percent respectively.  At the state’s community colleges, even after six years, 70 percent of students planning on earning an Associate’s degree or certificate had not completed the work.

*Number from Data Quest