Kinesiology senior Laura Charbonneau has seen tuition rise eight times during her four years at Cal Poly. Despite the financial aid she receives, being the last of three children in her family to attend college makes her “feel guilty” about taking so much from her parents.
“My parents pay for my tuition, but money is really tight,” Charbonneau said. “So that puts a lot of pressure on my family.”
Though students such as Charbonneau and their families would rather not consider the possibility of yet another tuition increase, it could be a reality for them as soon as January 2013. That’s because the failure of Proposition 30 — an increase to state sales tax and upper class income tax — would lead to a $250 million cut in the CSU and a resulting $100 per quarter tuition increase.
But that tuition increase alone would not be enough to cover the $14.5 million cut to Cal Poly if Proposition 30 fails. Vice president for administration and finance Larry Kelley, who has worked as Cal Poly’s chief financial officer since 2002, will be tasked with figuring out how to make up the difference.
Kelley began to plan for Proposition 30’s potential defeat earlier this year by allocating Cal Poly’s 2012-13 budget as if cuts from Proposition 30 had already taken effect. Cal Poly used leftover money from the past year’s budget and from a previous tuition increase to offset the $14.5 million that could be taken away by the state, Kelley said.
Even if Cal Poly can sustain itself through the academic year, Kelley said its financial future is still unpredictable. That’s because nearly all the university’s one-time funds were used this year, and he is not sure how much will be leftover from this year’s budget to help compensate for a cut next year.
Depending on how much money the CSU can bring to Cal Poly if Proposition 30 fails, the university might not need to find ways to reduce costs on its own. But if Cal Poly needs to save more, Kelley said administrators will then begin to examine what can be cut.
“It’s too soon to have any solid plans and too dangerous to speculate,” Kelley said.
Kelley has seen more than a dozen rounds of tuition increases during his time in the CSU. And though he says Proposition 30 will bring some stability to the university system, he does not see it completely fixing the CSU’s budget woes.
“It’s a real challenge,” he said. “Budgeting is a function of priority setting. And will the state recognize public higher education as a priority? Will they have the resources to support that recognition? That’s a question that needs to be addressed in the long term.
“Even by the nature of Prop. 30, it’s a seven-year, or temporary, tax. So to say it’s a long-term fix or a forever fix, I think those who drafted it anticipate that the economy will improve and that additional tax revenue won’t be the answer in the long term. And I think that makes sense.”
Cal Poly may find relief with a strategy many students hope to avoid: more tuition hikes. The CSU Board of Trustees, which approved the tuition increase that will take effect next quarter if Proposition 30 fails, will try to find ways to increase funds during its November meeting. This could include increasing tuition on students repeating classes, students taking more than 16 units per term and “super seniors,” or those who have already earned more than 225 quarter units or 150 semester units.
These ideas will be under consideration regardless of whether Proposition 30 passes or fails, according to CSU spokesperson Liz Chapin.
Part of what could help offset the cuts is the Cal Poly Student Success Fee, which was implemented in Fall 2012 and brought the university more than $8.5 million this fiscal year. Though Armstrong said in a September interview that the Student Success Fee had already improved life at Cal Poly, it could be used in a worst-case scenario to offset funding cuts and provide stability to a struggling university.
“If the ballot initiative does not pass … we could get cut $14.5 million,” Armstrong said. “Now, do you remember the amount of revenue the Student Success Fee will generate when it’s phased in in four years? $14 million.”
But Cal Poly administrators hope for a different scenario, where Proposition 30’s passage not only saves the university from budget cuts, but also refunds some tuition to students. Though little money is guaranteed to the university system if Proposition 30 passes — just enough to help refund a tuition increase that began this quarter — proponents say it could free up government resources in the general fund that could later be allocated to the CSU.
This is why Armstrong said he will be checking “yes” when he votes on the proposition in November.
“(If Proposition 30 passes), we can grow and we can add additional California students in addition to the growth we’ve seen with other students. Why is that important? California needs Cal Poly grads. We have no problem with placements of our students,” Armstrong said. “We can grow, that can also help mitigate some of the issues. Growth is a good thing.”
In a joint-opinion piece published in The Tribune, Armstrong joined Cuesta Community College President Gil Stork and San Luis Obispo County Superintendent of Schools Julian Crocker to “politely” describe the state as “retreating from its one-time position as the nation’s undisputed leader in public education at all levels.”
But the leaders then put it bluntly, and described the past four years as a “bloodbath.”
“We cannot sit back quietly and see the children and the state’s economic future be put at risk,” the three wrote.
The state forced the university system to weather $750 million in state cuts during the past fiscal year, the most recent being a “trigger cut” in December based on lower-than-expected state revenue. That cut reduced Cal Poly’s funding by approximately $5 million, though it was mostly offset by a tuition increase approved by the Board of Trustees.