Tuesday, July 14, 2009
The cumulative effect of California's annual budget paralysis is an unemployment rate almost as bad as Michigan's, a bond rating worse than Louisiana's and the country's best shot at creating the first full-blown depression in four generations.
Sacramento is now turning crisis into catastrophe by cutting the sectors that are key to recovery, including higher education.
Before World War I, when California was a giant farm irrigated with federal water, a "plantation model" of education prevailed: Educate the elite and keep the rest at a minimally functional level. After World War II, with military aerospace and then computers driving growth, California built public universities open to everyone who showed drive. By combining mass access with the highest quality, California built a highly educated workforce of unprecedented size and depth. It made California's economy the envy of the world.
For the last generation, campaign after campaign has cut back on government and rationed these opportunities. While most state government expenditures have been flat when corrected for population growth, higher education has been cut and cut. The University of California, billed as the greatest public research university in the world, has lost 50 percent of its per-student state funding since 1990, while still being expected to keep California at the top of the world's knowledge economy.
The results? In California, the college participation rate of 19-year-olds fell from 43 percent to 30 percent in just eight years (1996-2004), dropping California from 17th among the 50 states to 46th, one of the quickest educational declines in developed nations.
This year, Sacramento plans to continue the destruction. The governor's budget proposes to bring two-year cuts to 25 percent of the already-depleted state general fund support for the University of California, along with similar cuts at the California State University stems, at community colleges, and at least 10 percent in our badly trailing K-12 public school system.
What do such cuts mean? All other things being equal, 25 percent cuts mean 25 percent fewer courses for more students or a 25 percent increase in the size of courses that remain. Students will learn 25 percent less, and take 25 percent longer to graduate. Because 25 percent of four years is one year, college will now only deliver three years of learning in four more costly years.
Example? In a UC department once ranked in the Top 10 in its field worldwide, hamstrung budgets allowed graders to spend four minutes per week per student, at most - until cuts eliminated the graders completely.
While they get less, students will pay more. Cal State has announced it will seek one-year fee increases of 30 percent. Such increases, burdensome as they are, are nowhere near big enough to fill the hole left by public funding cuts. Philanthropy, research funds and "efficiency" gimmicks can't make up the difference, either. For UC to offset the current round of state cuts without resorting to planned furloughs, layoffs and service cuts, it would need to nearly double undergraduate fees from about $7,500 to $14,500 this fall. Future state cuts would require proportionate fee increases. The only practical way to restore California's promise of having the world's best public universities for the greatest number is to rebuild public funding for UC and CSU.
Some may say this vision is unreasonable given economic realities. The reality is this: Californians can rebuild the public higher education system that delivered golden age California, or watch that system be guttedin a way that prolongs the recession.
Christopher Newfield is professor of English at UCSB and Stanton Glantz is professor of Medicine at UCSF. They are both former chairs of the UC Systemwide Committee on Planning and Budget.