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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Outrage Grows As Politicians Refuse To Address Higher Education

Laura Cueva |
October 6, 2010 | 12:46 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Students protest fee hikes in Sacramento. (Creative Commons)
Students protest fee hikes in Sacramento. (Creative Commons)
In November 2009, the University of California regents increased student fees by 32 percent, pushing the price of attendance to more than $10,000 a year for the first time in history.
In June 2010, the California State University system also put a 5 percent tuition hike in place after having already increased tuition by 10 percent in May 2009 and another 20 percent in July 2009. 

Both systems were initially founded on the idea that higher education should be available to students across the state free of charge. The 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education “reaffirmed California's prior commitment to the principle of tuition-free education to residents of the State.” Clearly, that principle is long gone.

The no-tuition policy ended in the 80s when the state’s general fund was reduced, and since then, tuition and fees have become the norm in higher education. Now, with the state struggling to get back on its economic feet, some grudgingly accept these fee hikes as a necessary evil.

But students are fed up.

Not only are tuition and fees on the rise, but universities’ academic and maintenance departments have seen major cuts in staffing and many resources are being lost - and students have chosen Oct. 7 as the day they’re going to voice their outrage.

They’re calling it the “National Day of Action to Defend Public Education” and students in California are hoping it sends a message to whoever becomes governor this November.

Both Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman have put out plans for reforming the higher education system in California, but neither candidate has addressed the important issue of affordability for students of the UC and CSU systems.

“The CSU has been a strong advocate for the need of additional resources,” said Erik Fallis, a CSU spokesperson. “Of course, whoever gets into office, we’d want to work with that person closely.”

Though the CSU and UC systems are nonpartisan, both recognize the need for more funding from the state.

“[Funding] goes to support the needs of students. It goes to providing a quality education with a focus on access and affordability,” Fallis said.

But getting money from the state is no easy task.

Whitman has proposed putting $1 billion into higher education, but experts say even with this extra money, adequate reform would still require raising tuition and fees at the UC system another $2,393 (to $13,943), CSU another $338 (to $5,231) and community colleges another $484 (to $1,264) to accommodate all the students who apply.

Brown has suggested reforming community colleges’ transfer regulations, implementing online learning in more institutions, and focusing more specifically on the needs of community colleges, which serve nearly 3 million students across the state. Though these are good plans, they do nothing to offset the enormous tuition and fee hikes or to address cuts in state funding.

And with other economic issues on hand, both Brown and Whitman would prefer to not say anything regarding higher education rather than risk saying something that might not sit well with students.

“The UCs and CSUs are part of what makes California great,” said Darrel Ng, a Whitman campaign spokesman. “But funding decisions are made by the UC regents...The only thing that Meg has said on the issue is that she plans on investing an additional billion dollars. There aren’t any other specifics." 

Brown’s campaign simply didn’t respond to numerous requests for comment.

So as Oct. 7 approaches, students participating in walkouts and protests demanding education reform will have their work cut out for them.
Ingrid Escobar, who transferred to UCLA from a community college her junior year, said she thinks the UC system needs to undergo some major reform before they lose some of their most important assets.

“UCs should be more reasonable when it comes to the cost of education because many students have the potential to succeed in the classroom, but they can't afford to attend a public institution,” Escobar said, “which should be available to everyone. The UCs might also be losing many potential leaders, who can change the economic standings of this country, because they can’t afford to pay.”


Reach reporter Laura Cueva here.

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