I have to admit that when my professors announced their furlough days this quarter, I cherished the lost class time. I saw furloughs merely as days I could sleep in and miss class without penalty. However, we all know there’s a more serious issue behind these furloughs than just gaining a blissful hour or two of extra sleep.
This year the CSU system is facing a $564 million cut in state funding, which amounts to a 20 percent reduction, while new applications to the CSU have increased by 53 percent. CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed has said that the California State University system needs to drop student enrollment by as much as 40,000 to match the lack of state funding.
“You cannot see a 20 percent drop in revenue and serve the same number of students,” he said.
This week, ASI hosted Dollar Dilemmas to inform students about the budget crisis, and allow them to vent their frustrations. I was struck by Cal Poly students’ statements on Wednesday morning when I browsed the Dollar Dilemmas table in the UU. One student wrote about worries concerning the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Another student feared he or she would not graduate on time because of the proposed cuts.
The impact of the cuts on students’ ability to attend college and graduate on time should not be underestimated. Every campus will have to decide how to allocate limited funds according to its priorities, which should, foremost, include admitting and retaining as many students as possible and ensuring required classes are offered.
At a recent press conference Reed said, “Denying students access to higher education is just about one of the worst things you can do in a recession.”
He went on to say, “The state needs our graduates to enter the workforce and help the state’s economic recovery. But, when your budget is cut so drastically, we are left with little choice but to restrict our enrollment.”
At least two underlying issues can be blamed for our current higher education budget woes. The first is the straggling U.S. economy. Californians’ incomes were affected by the ailing U.S. economy toward the end of the Bush administration, which then affected state income tax revenue.
The second is that during the budget crisis last spring, Republicans in the state legislature absolutely refused to compromise and pass any bill that raised taxes on California’s wealthiest. This forced the legislature to rely heavily on cuts to fix the government budget.
But, as Reed pointed out in his statement, limiting access to the CSU or hindering students from returning to college for financial reasons hurts our economy in the future. The economy needs students to get into college, graduate and start working.
This is the legislature’s chance to make amends. The only viable solution to fix our economy is to pass Assembly Bill 656, which imposes a severance tax on oil companies that draw oil out of the ground. The money garnered from this tax would be used entirely to support the CSU system.
Republicans may oppose this bill because they believe it will drive away even more business from the state, or because they are simply opposed to imposing a new tax. This would be a valid argument if we were not discussing oil companies.
Fortune 500 ranked Exonn Mobile and Chevron as the first and third most profitable companies in 2009. Exxon hacked up $45.2 billion in profit and Chevron sliced off nearly $24 billion. I doubt they’re having any trouble sending their children to college or making sure the college their children attend offers the classes they need to graduate. They can spare a couple hundred million dollars to pay us back and help our economy.