An Uncertain Future for California’s Higher Education
By Brian Goldstein
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice
California is home to one of the finest higher education systems in the world; a catalyst for innovation, job creation, and academic excellence. This includes the California Community Colleges, California State University (CSU), and University of California (UC) systems. Higher education funds represent a long-term investment that accrues dividends beyond the classroom.
On May 14, Governor Brown released his revised 2012-13 budget that outlined measures to fill an estimated $15.7 billion deficit. Given this fiscal crisis, state higher education must absorb funding reductions. Each must also prepare for potential future cuts if voters reject Governor Brown’s November tax initiative.
California’s community colleges serve 2.6 million students across 112 colleges, yet it cannot avoid significant funding reductions. The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office reports cuts of $809 million or 12% since 2008-9, with enrolment down 300,000. In 2012, the system lost $502 million and an additional $102 million from January trigger cuts. Community colleges could lose approximately $300 million if voters do not approve the Governor’s tax initiative. Chancellor Jack Scott noted, “We’ve been forced to shut the door on hundreds of thousands of potential students who are hungry for a college education.”
The California State University (CSU) system educates nearly 427,000 students in 23 campuses, with one study estimating the annual state economic impact at $70 billion. The University of California (UC) system encompasses 220,000 students at 10 campuses, with a report finding UC annually generates $46.3 billion in economic activity.
In 2011, CSU yearly state funds fell by $750 million, including $100 million from January 2012 budget trigger cuts. If the Governor’s November initiative fails, CSU would lose $250 million, $50 million higher than proposed in January. This trigger reduces state funds to $1.8 billion–a 17 year low.
Approval of the November initiative leaves CSU with a flat state budget of $2 billion. CSU closed enrollment for Spring 2013. Chancellor Charles B. Reed said recently, “all Californians should be concerned about the serious long-term damage to student access to the California State University that is posed by the $250 million trigger cut.”
Governor Brown also cut UC state funds by $750 million, including $100 million from the January budget trigger cuts. If the Governor’s November initiative fails, UC would also lose $250 million. One UC vice chancellor lamented the system had, "Eliminated close to 4,000 positions, deferred academic hiring, cut academic programs, and certainly that has pulled back the university as far as we can go.”
These funding reductions represent broader state services cuts, as described in a recent CJCJ report. In his May revised 2012-13 budget, Governor Brown proposed charging counties $24,000 annually per youth committed to the Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF), the state youth correctional facilities, which nets savings of $24.8 million when combined with other administrative changes. This is a significant decline from the Governor’s December 2011 DJF fee proposal that estimated savings of $67.7 million. Nevertheless, law enforcement groups oppose even this reduced DJF fee structure.
Leaders from CSU, UC, and California Community Colleges recently advocated in Sacramento for protecting higher education funds. CSU Chancellor Reed said, “One of the things that I want to get across to the leadership of the state is they have a responsibility to figure out how to reinvest in California's future.” Indeed, higher education funds represent an investment in economic growth. Deferring the $24,000 DJF fee neither benefits the state nor the youth in their care. Another reprieve means other services will lose additional funding, including higher education. This stridency binds California to a failed and unnecessary dual juvenile justice system, rather than investing in long-term economic recovery.
Brian Goldstein is a member of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ)'s policy team - where this article originally appeared. His expertise is on political trends in criminal justice reform.