August 11, 2022

California Cuts Weigh Heavily on Its Colleges

The compromise to close the state’s huge budget gap included cuts to state agencies of all kinds, but none were as deep as those to the state’s public colleges and universities. The state’s two systems were each cut by $650 million, and they each could lose $100 million more if the state’s optimistic revenue expectations do not materialize. For both systems, the $650 million is roughly a 20 percent cut of operating money from the state.

This fall, for the first time, the University of California will take in more money from student tuition than from state finances.

The state’s two-tier system has long been seen as a model of public higher education, with the University of California’s 10 campuses as major research hubs and the California State University’s network of 23 campuses graduating tens of thousands each year. But the cuts, which are the biggest in the state’s history, threaten to erode the system’s stellar reputation.

“There’s no question that California has had the most emulated public universities in the nation, and for the rest of the world,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. “What we are seeing is the abandonment of the state’s commitment to make California’s education available to all its citizens.”

Tuition is expected to rise roughly 20 percent next year, just the latest in series of steep increases. Yearly in-state tuition at California State University will average about $5,500, while at the University of California, it is expected to be $13,200 if the increases are approved this month. Programs all over the state are being shuttered, star professors are leaving for colleges in other states, faculty positions are being left unfilled and class sizes are continuing to grow. While the state’s spending on the system is down to a level not seen since the late-1990s, the campuses enroll tens of thousands more students.

Schools, meanwhile, are stepping up their efforts to recruit students from other states, using their higher tuition payments to help fill the coffers at the expense of California applicants.

“The state has been a very unreliable partner in the last 20 years,” said Mark G. Yudof, the president of the University of California. “We are losing sight of what we are supposed to be. The trends were bad before, and they are just abysmal now.”

Last year, when budget cuts prompted a 26 percent tuition increase at the University of California, thousands of students protested, shutting down freeways and holding walkouts. The reaction this time has been more muted so far, partly because so many students are on summer break and the exact amount of the increases is still unknown.

An editorial this week in the Berkeley campus newspaper, The Daily Californian, however, placed the blame squarely on Sacramento.

“We cannot afford nor can we tolerate more cuts of this magnitude,” the editorial read. “While recent efforts at protest have proved ineffective and disappointing, we hope that any efforts to express public anger is channeled at our state officials, not the regents. Tuition increases are a result of state disinvestment, and students must remember that.”

While states across the country have tightened their belts, none of their higher education cuts have matched the severity of California’s, Dr. Hartle said. Mr. Yudof said that he was comforted by knowing that hundreds of students still received millions of dollars in financial aid to help them pay for tuition.

To a large extent, the wealthiest and poorest students fare better, either because they can afford the hefty increases or because they have enough financial aid to cover them. But students from families with incomes in the low six figures often feel the biggest pinch, taking out more loans with each tuition increase.

“It starts to feel impossible really quick,” said Alison Linton, 20, a sophomore at Riverside, who said she had taken out $30,000 in loans so far. “But there’s nothing you can do besides say, ‘I need more cash.’ ”

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