Next year, San Diego State University English instructor Jill Holslin's 50-student, upper-division Shakespeare class, one of four sections of that course offered each semester, will morph into one 200-student "mega class," as Holslin puts it. Fewer and larger classes mean fewer instructors and fewer salaries to pay. It's one of many cost-saving measures proposed throughout the California State University system to offset Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to cut $311 million from the state university system's budget. Junior and senior English majors at SDSU will experience the Bard kind of like the cheap-seats peasants did back in 17th century England: "Pack 'em in like sardines," quips Holslin.
Christina RuizGoldberg is hoping her last year in college won't be affected by the Governor's plan to up student fees at state schools. The fourth-year SDSU liberal studies major-first in her family to attend college-relies on financial aid to fund her education. Without it, she'd have to drop out, she said. As it is, her financial aid won't keep pace with fee increases-the Governor's proposal for fall 2004 includes a 10-percent jump in undergrad fees and a whopping 40-percent increase for grad students.
Unlike his Democratic predecessor, who last year promised financial aid would increase when fees went up, Schwarzenegger plans to "decouple" financial aid and student fees. That means even students who qualify for full assistance from the state will have to come up with extra money this fall, said Lynn Dodesto, a budget manager with the state's Department of Finance. "Students [receiving state aid] will have to pay a little more," he said, "maybe take on work study or an extra job."
All levels of California's three-tier public-education system-University of California, CSU and community colleges-will see increased student fees, enrollment caps and reduced services. CSU Chancellor Charles Reed has said he expects to turn away 20,000 qualified students next year-the funding to educate those students simply isn't available. Student fees cover roughly a quarter of per-pupil costs.
Many of those students may end up in community colleges, where they'll pay $26 a unit, up from last fall's $11 per unit. In addition, as a cost-saving measure for the state's four-year universities, the Governor is offering 8,000 UC- and CSU-eligible students a free education if they voluntarily complete their undergraduate coursework at a California community college. It's an offer many in the community college system see as unfair-the community colleges won't get extra money for these free-ride students and the campuses may even be forced to re-direct resources to cater to a larger-than-normal, transfer-seeking cohort.
Schwarzenegger may have made good on his promise to rescind the vehicle license fee, otherwise known as the car tax, and has repeatedly said he's committed to sparing Californians tax increases-but some say he's balancing the budget on the backs of those who can least afford the burden. Indeed, the extra money a CSU student will pay annually in increased fees come this fall ($205) is close to what someone with a $20,000 car will save on car taxes ($243) this year. A UC student will pay a little more than what someone with a $30,000 car would have been taxed.
"The Republicans say, "no new taxes,' said San Diego Mesa College history professor Jonathan McLeod. "They don't say, "no new fees.' Well, what's a fee? That's just a slight of tongue. Any huckster can pull off those kinds of tricks, and we need to expose that as hucksterism."
While fees at UC and CSU schools are considered by some a bargain-outside of California, the average cost at a state school similar to a UC is $2,000 more a year-California's system has more campuses and cycles through more students than any other state and its top schools are located in some of the most expensive cities in the nation. "California has the lowest fees for its public higher education-no one will argue that," said Cheryl Fong, spokesperson for the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office. "Because of the economy we can expect there might be fee increases...[but] in just slightly over a year we're going from $11 to $26 [a unit]? That's unacceptable."
Fong said 175,000 students who were expected to enroll in California community colleges this past fall never showed up. She attributes this to fee increases, overcrowded campuses and program cuts.
The Governor's budget proposal anticipates that increased enrollment costs will knock some students out of the game, making room for others: "[I]n context of expected enrollment attrition of some students in response to proposed fee increases," the proposal reads, "the Governor's budget should provide space for significantly more new students...."
Forty-four years ago Clark Kerr, then head of the UC system, proposed what he called California's master plan for education. The plan is a model of egalitarianism. "California will develop and maintain a coherent system of first-rate schools, colleges and universities that prepares all students for learning, and for transition to and success in successive levels of education, the workplace and society at large, and that is fully responsive to the changing needs of our state and our people," Kerr wrote. Under the higher-ed portion of master plan, the top 12.5 percent of California high school graduates would be guaranteed a slot at a UC school. The next third of high school grads would get to attend their choice of CSU schools and the remainder was guaranteed a slot at a community college, where they could gain transferable units or get vocational training. Ostensibly this tripartite education system was available to students tuition-free, though there were fees to help offset state costs.
SDSU sociology professor Jim Wood entered UC Berkeley a year before the master plan was implemented. Once it went into effect, he saw the impact it had on kids in the working-class Oakland neighborhood where he grew up-kids who otherwise might have dropped their educational aspirations with a high school diploma started using the "c" word-college.
Wood said that while the master plan sought to guarantee California's students access to quality higher education, there was nothing guaranteeing there'd be money enough to support it-something the pubic didn't realize until the budget crunch of the early 1990s, when even tenured faculty at SDSU found their jobs at risk. "The master plan specified who would get into what college, but it didn't specify how it was going to get paid for," Wood noted.
Proposition 98, passed in 1987, earmarked 40 percent of the state budget for K-12 education and-to an extent-community colleges (California community colleges currently rank 45th nationwide in per-pupil funding). The CSU and UC systems rely on the "discretionary funds" portion of the budget-a mere 15 percent of the pie-for funding.
Kerr, who died in December, had lobbied to get a funding guarantee for the master plan. A couple legislative bills didn't make it past Assembly committees, said Wood, and the one bill that went the farthest died when it hit then-Gov. Pete Wilson's desk.
Both Wood and McLeod largely attribute Schwarzenegger's plan for higher education to Department of Finance chief Donna Arduin, who came to California from Florida. "Cut higher ed and every other program that's cut-able," said Wood. "She's done this in other states and she's trying to do it here." But, Wood added, "we have a Democratic Legislature that's not in favor of the kind of cuts she has in mind."
"There are going to be changes, there's no doubt about that," said McLeod, "but can we stop some of what's going on? Can we temper it? Can we be enlightened [and] come to the determination that we need to make an ongoing commitment to education?"California's system of colleges and state universities was the dream of the world," McLeod continued. "People came from all over the world to study here and we were the model held up all over the world about how to structure systems of education. Civilization depends on having an educated citizenry and that's what this is all about."