Thursday, July 23, 2009

Making Ends Meet in California

Most of the material that appears here is a light-hearted view of sports, family and friends, the community and some of my life experiences.

So forgive me while I get sidetracked by real life. We all know the economy is in dire straits, and most of us have started to tighten our belts. And we probably know a few people who have lost their jobs or homes (or both), or people whose own businesses are in trouble.

Now we’re getting to the point where this news has an impact on a lot more of us. With so many of my friends putting their kids through college – or getting ready to – our wallets just got a little bit lighter.

The California State University Board of Trustees Tuesday approved a 20 percent student fee increase for this fall. That’s on top of a 10 percent increase enacted just a couple of months ago. Annual full-time undergraduate student fees at all CSU campuses will increase by $672, from $3,354 to $4,026 per year. This is in addition to the $306 annual fee increase for full-time undergraduates adopted in May. Add on mandatory campus fees of a little more than $800, and California State University students will pay around $4,850 a year in fees per year.

Here's a video of Chancellor Reed detailing the CSU situation...

Even with the fee increase, CSU campuses continue to offer the lowest fee rate in the United States among comparable institutions. They remain a remarkable bargain for the high-quality education they provide.

That may not be a consolation for those of us with college-aged kids, but it’s still the most economical alternative for a top-quality university education. The state’s other four-year higher education system, the University of California, boosted its fees several months ago.

What’s happening is that the financial responsibility for public colleges and universities is falling more and more on the true users of the product, rather than on the general state population as a whole. This is actually more in line with what happens in other states, and not necessarily a bad thing, but is a contradiction to the California Master Plan for Higher Education, a 1960 roadmap for the state’s three college systems – the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges – to guarantee any qualified California resident who wanted a college education the opportunity to receive one. But in the past 49 years, it seems the CSU has gone from state-supported to state-assisted to now just being state-located, and that guarantee is becoming harder to promise. Access to higher education is more difficult. It’s not to the point where public universities are being privatized, but with fewer state funds from taxpayers, college students have to cover a larger slice of the pie. Geez, is it really that long ago that state university fees were around $75 a quarter when I was a student at Cal Poly Pomona? Nah, 30 years isn’t really that long ago.

Nevertheless, a CSU education is still an incredible bargain today, and it puts the comparable cost of a UC or private institution in perspective.

The state’s financial support for the California State University has fallen dramatically, and because of the extremely messy state budget situation, which just came to a tentative resolution this week, support for the CSU has been reduced a staggering $584 million, which is an unprecedented 20 percent decrease.

Then again, the state does not have a whole lot of choice when it comes to balancing its $26.3 billion budget deficit. Education accounts for a huge amount of the California budget expenses line. Beyond social programs and prisons, the Legislature had few options when it radically peeled back state expenditures, and those other areas also took big hits.

And so is everybody else. As such, the CSU will adopt a potpourri of actions to address the state-funding shortfall. The fee increase is only part of the solution and addresses about 25 percent of the problem. In the coming weeks, we’ll see more measures put into place at Cal State San Bernardino and all CSU campuses, so that the university can continue to provide a high-quality education to as many students as possible. Those steps include employee furloughs and layoffs, enrollment reductions, a hiring and salary freeze, and significant travel and purchasing restrictions.

A big chunk of the issue will be addressed with a combination of furloughs and layoffs. Some of us at CSUSB will begin working a furlough schedule in August through the next 11 months, which, to me, is a much better option than the alternative. I will gladly take furlough days to avoid seeing people lose their jobs.
We’ll see fewer students at college campuses over the next couple of years, and classes may be harder to get at CSUs, depending on whether or not faculty vote to negotiate a furlough program or opt for large-scale layoffs.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the fee increase will have little or no impact for many people, including a lot of folks in the Inland Empire. For example, one-third of the revenue from the fee increase will be set aside for financial aid, and virtually all dependents from households that make $75,000 or less will not pay any fees. More than half of the students at Cal State San Bernardino (around 55 percent) will be completely covered for the increase through a mix of grants, fee waivers and federal tax credits. There are a lot of scholarships and other financial aid packages available to students, and it’s worth a visit to a campus financial aid or admissions Web site for more information.

I don’t need to tell anybody that it’s tough out there. But hold on and keep college at the top of your priority list. Even if it costs a little more, it’s well worth it.

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