This week, the California Legislature resumed its spring session and is considering higher education funding levels for the coming year. Even though it’s common knowledge in Sacramento that education is drastically under-funded ($1.5 billion deficit in the CSU alone), that student fees have increased 76 percent in four years (not including campus-based fees) and that last year alone over 117,000 eligible students were denied Cal Grants, there still doesn’t seem to be a consensus that higher education needs to be a priority.
The good news is that the tide seems to be turning in our favor, at least for now. In January, the governor’s budget proposal included a buy-out of the proposed 8 percent fee increase which would prevent state fees from rising next year. While this proposal looks favorable for the time being, increasing student fees yet again looks like a potential option to generate the revenue needed to restore funding to outreach programs that were cut, a solution students are not likely to support.
But the fact remains, difficult decisions must be made, and education continues to be on the chopping block. Education is in the squeeze, and it’s going to take more than state support to keep our university strong into the future. At Cal Poly, we’ve lightened the burden a small amount with our campus-based fee model, which is now being looked to as a long-term solution for other universities around the state.
While it’s true that we have to plan for long-term growth, and that we must be willing to contribute our fair share for the increasing costs of education, it’s too early to let the state lawmakers off the hook. After all, California is No. 1 nationwide in per capita spending on the prison system and No. 42 on education. The state will always face challenges meeting the competing demands for funding, but it’s the priorities that will determine the outcome.
In recent lobby meetings with our state legislators in Sacramento, both Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee and staff from Senator Abel Maldonado’s office countered our requests for increased support for education by listing all the competing interests: health care, corrections, mental health, social services, etc – Then they dropped the million dollar question: “Why is higher education more important than these competing issues?”
The answer is simple: Until we fund education we will be plagued with exploding costs in all of the areas they mentioned. The solution is investing in the future by providing necessary funding to higher education. The CSU provides over 80 percent of the state’s degrees in criminal justice, education, social work and public administration and over 50 percent of the degrees in business, communications and engineering. The CSU also grants over 50 percent of all degrees in California awarded to Latino, African American and Native American populations.
Until we can adequately provide opportunities for all children in California, regardless of their socioeconomic status, we will continue to struggle with crime rates, high school drop-out rates and the need for social services. We’ve got to invest in education to begin serving high-risk populations today so that we can shape role models and heroes within those communities for future generations to follow.
If you agree, now is the time to let your legislators know. We’ve got two months to make education a priority.
Tylor Middlestadt is the ASI president and a Mustang Daily columnist. He can be reached at 756-5828; AIM: CPASIPresident; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.