Budget Cuts Not So Cut and Dry

A college education has long been considered an important measure of success. Statistically, college graduates will make more money than non-college graduates in their lifetime. Moreover, college graduates also have a lower unemployment rate than non-college graduates. These factors, among  others, led governments to create policies to facilitate students’ pursuit of  a college education. Lately, however, it seems as though college is becoming a matter of who can afford an education rather than who merits it.


There have been programs available to assist students with furthering their education for decades. Government aid to higher education first began in 1862 with the Morrill Act, which set aside government land for the purpose of building public universities and funding education. Universities such as UC Berkeley, Arizona University and Colorado University are examples of such land grant universities.


Later both the federal and state governments assisted college students directly through grants and other financial aid programs.  The first of these programs was the GI Bill. This Bill provided veterans with federal money in order to attend college or purchase a house. A different version of the bill is in effect today and allocates financial aid for college for veterans and their families.


The state of California also contributes to college education by providing grants and subsidizing education at public universities. California State Grants — or Cal Grants for short — gives government money to students to help pay for college.


California gives billions of dollars to support higher education every year. During the 2009-2010 school year UC students received billions in financial aid from the federal and state governments as well as private sources. This totaled $2.1 billion dollars for undergraduate and $1.5 billion according to the UC Regents website.


Nevertheless, these financial aid initiatives might not last much longer


If Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal is passed. Brown’s proposal calls for cutting funding to the Cal Grant system. These cuts would total $131.2 million for Cal Grants according to the California Department of Finance. UCs will get an increase of $90 million for the 2013-13 year from the state.  This will cover increasing operation cost and retirement programs, and not student financial aid.


Cuts to financial aid force universities to put more of the financial burden of a college education on the students. This may force students to take out student loans and eventually put them in debt. Even if financial aid wasn’t cut, the cost of a college education would continue to rise to make up for budget cuts to public education.


Recently, the cost of education has been surpassing the rate of inflation. Between 1985 and 2011 inflation increased 110.06 percent, meaning that the value of the American dollar was a little more than double than it was in 2011. In the same amount of time the price for a college education rose 498.31 percent. This increase is also shown on the UC Regents website. The cost of attending the University of California increased by $1,900 between the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years.  Increases in financial aid were allocated to help low-income students pay for these increases.


Professor of economics Amihai Glazer commented on the continual increase in the cost of education and its causes:


“The Federal Government has increased student loans, which increased demand (for college) and which increased costs,” Glazer said. The amount of college students has increased due to the availability of student loans and financial aid. Between 1989 and 1999 the number of students enrolled in college increased by 9 percent, between 1999 and 2009 enrollment increased 38 percent according to the National Center for Education.


The increased costs caused heavily impacted the UC system. The state of California had given the universities enough money so that students wouldn’t be charged tuition; however budget shortfalls forced the UC system to charge tuition.


“Until about 10 years ago the University of California did not charge tuition, but charged fees,” Glazer said. “The actual education was free and paid for by the state.”


When UC Irvine was founded in 1965, it was intended to be funded by taxes rather than tuition, as was the underlying intent of all universities in the UC system. But the cost of an education was much less in the ’60s. The ever-mounting price of a college education may force the government to change their policies on funding secondary education. This issue has drawn widespread political debate. Ultimately, the outcome will depend on the decisions by politicians and voters over how they want taxpayer money to be spent. This makes it crucial that citizens play a proactive role in the decision-making process by publicizing their positions and not neglecting poll days.