Countdown to 2011-12: More Deep Cuts to Higher Education on the Horizon

California continues to cut higher education funding reversing a historic commitment to the state’s public colleges and universities. The state’s commitment to higher education predates the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, one of the first Governor Brown’s signature accomplishments. The halcyon days of the 1960 Master Plan, which reaffirmed the commitment that all qualified Californians would have access to a tuition-free education at a California college or university, are clearly over. Despite Governor Jerry Brown’s veto of the Legislature’s June 15 spending plan, which would have cut an additional $150 million from both the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU), lawmakers are on a path to cut at least $1.0 billion from the state’s public universities in 2011-12. As a result, state General Fund support as a share of core higher education funding would drop from 74.0 percent to 56.5 percent between 2007-08 and 2011-12 at the UC and from 75.3 percent to 61.3 percent at the CSU.

As state funding for public colleges and universities has been cut, student fees have increased, shifting the costs of higher education to students and their families. Between 2007-08 and 2011-12, undergraduate fees for California residents increased by 67.6 percent at the UC and by 76.2 percent at the CSU. Recent cuts to California’s public colleges and universities are at odds with public opinion research that finds that:

  • Virtually all Californians (97 percent) believe that the state’s higher education system is important to the state’s economic vitality over the next 20 years;
  • Nearly three in four Californians (74 percent) believe that state funding for public colleges and universities is inadequate; and
  • More than six out of 10 Californians (62 percent) oppose increasing student fees to maintain current public college and university funding.

Cuts to public college and university funding undermine California’s historic commitment to higher education and put the state’s economic vitality at risk. We still believe that the state’s remaining budget gap should be closed with a balanced approach that includes additional revenues in order to preserve the public structures essential to California’s prosperity, a goal that has proved hard to achieve under the state’s current budget rules.

—Jonathan Kaplan