What Do California’s Budget Cuts Mean for Higher Ed?

As California struggles to solve its budget crisis, the most recent proposal for higher education includes 20% funding cuts to two public universities and the state’s community colleges.  While stimulus funds will likely ease the blow for the short run, this move raises major questions about state support for higher education moving forward.  While touchstone, populous states like California and Florida struggle with budget concerns, staff cuts and funding reductions, the remainder of the country is keeping a close eye on what direction these states take.  How will higher education institutions compete in an era of lean funding, dramatically declining major donations, and students who can no longer afford the same price tag for their postsecondary degree?

Consider another example: Texas, with its lean spending and budget surplus.  Texas taken quite a different road: dramatically reducing spending on state education support.  While Texas is lauded by many as an example of balanced funding during tough times, some are concerned that their minimal support for higher education will have profound reverberations on students and their future success.

According to an editorial by the Dallas Morning News,

“A globally competitive workforce requires workers who not only graduate high school but who have the kind of higher educational options that pack their brains with the high-tech knowledge that their parents and grandparents never envisioned. Texas’ demographics are changing, and pretending the low-tax, low-spend model will work forever would be as unwise as the opposite approach, which brought California to its knees. Texas also should leverage its current economic strength to recruit the best minds available to do and show how.”

With so many states located in the gray area of budget woes between California and Texas, it is critical to think beyond the bounds of the federal stimulus funds for education.  Can we continue to cut funding for higher education and still achieve our goals of higher enrollment in post-secondary institutions and a more globally competitive workforce?

In California Budget Deal, Bad News for Colleges in 2010

California officials reached a budget agreement late Monday that in closing a $26-billion gap will cause immediate damage to the state’s colleges and universities, leading to restricted admissions, reduced salaries for faculty and staff members, and sharply higher tuition.But the full effect of this year’s budget cuts will not be felt until 2010, when federal stimulus money is expected to dwindle or disappear and the state’s public institutions will face their most difficult financial decisions in decades.

Under the budget plan announced last night, the state will cut its support for California State University and the University of California by about 20 percent in the 2009-10 fiscal year. Community colleges will also see a cut in state support of about 20 percent, the largest in its history. The State Legislature is expected to approve the plan later this week.

For now, federal stimulus money will partially mask those cuts. But when the stimulus money recedes, this year’s budget will lead to sharply lower levels of support than the state’s prominent public universities are used to, college officials said.

“What is saving us in the short run could be setting us up for big problems in subsequent years,” said Robert Turnage, assistant vice chancellor for budget at California State University.


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