There is an old adage that says: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” The Regents and the state legislature have been following this model for years: reacting to budget cuts by raising fees has only brought more budget cuts. These fee increases have only been met with more state budget cuts and cannot be a solution for the problem of accelerated state divestment from higher education. Higher education is in a crisis, if we keep trying old solutions, we’ll stay stuck in this crisis with the same old problems.
In the last 20 years, while the state has cut funding in half for the UC, in the last 10 years the UC Regents have doubled student fees. Currently, we are facing a 30% fee increase which would put fee levels at over $10,000. This will price out low- and middle-income students from the UC system from affording and even applying to the UC.
Additionally, because the state has broken its promise to fund enrollment growth of 2.5% for the UC, the UC is overenrolled by 14,000 students. The Regents are planning to cut enrollment by 4,600 for the 2010-2011 year. UC Berkeley has announced its intention to admit 600 fewer California students to make space for out of state students as a way to address their budget shortfall since out of state students pay more. The state and the UC have abandoned the Master Plan and its commitment to provide a space for the top 1/8 of California’s graduating seniors.
To address the nearly $1 billion state divestment from higher education, the UC reduced faculty and staff salaries by implementing a furlough program. However, in the last decade, we have seen the number of administrators in the UC and their collective salaries double. We are seeing a serious lack of vision and priorities from UC officials and the state legislature.
These budget cuts are disproportionately placed on the backs of students. Fee hikes and enrollment cuts limit affordability and access, and faculty and staff furloughs negatively impact the quality of education that we receive at the UC. We are seeing over-crowded classrooms, short library hours and cuts to student services. Because the UC has failed to provide the necessary classes that students need to graduate, private institutions are offering discounted classes for those students. We are paying more and getting less, and the UC’s excellence is severely threatened.
With the unprecedented increase in fees, financial aid as guaranteed by the Blue & Gold Plan and the short-term stimulus package credit is not enough to maintain the affordability of the UC. Fees cannot be raised enough to get us out of this budget deficit, and therefore it cannot be the solution to this crisis. It is foolish to believe that continuing to raise fees, cut enrollment, cut services and reduce faculty and staff salaries is going to get us out of this crisis. We cannot keep doing the same thing expecting different results. We need bold leadership with the resolve to take on these budget cuts while maintaining the values of access, affordability and quality that has made the University of California the most prestigious public system in the world.
Students are seeking bold and innovative solutions to the budget crisis. We have started by launching a campaign to lock in Cal Grant funding to protect students from budget cuts and fee increases, and we’re on the lookout for more. We will be holding the March for Higher Education, a month of action dedicated to increasing pressure on the Legislature to adopt real solutions to our crisis. We’ll kick off the month with our annual Lobby Day on March 1 and end on March 31, with — you guessed it — a march on Sacramento.
President Yudof, the assembled army of UC advocates is already here. You can join us by taking the mid-year fee increase off the table, ending pay cuts and signing on to student solutions. We already have plans laid out to march in Sacramento, not before we first march to the Regents meeting in November. Are you game, President Yudof?
Victor Sanchez is the president of the UC Student Association. He can be reached by phone at 323-422-8583 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.