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California College Students Brace for State Budget Cuts

SAN FRANCISCO – California college students are bracing for higher tuition bills and fewer courses and campus services under a new state budget that once again slashes spending on higher education.

The budget signed last Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown inflicts the latest blow to California’s renowned higher education system, which has helped make the state an economic powerhouse and served as a model for other states and countries.

Over the past three years, California’s public colleges and universities have seen deep cuts in state funding that have dramatically raised the cost of attendance, forced campuses to turn away qualified students and eroded the quality of classroom instruction.

Under the newly approved state budget, the 10-campus University of California and 23-campus California State University will each lose at least $650 million in state funding, a cut of more than 20 percent. The two systems could each face another $100 million cut if the state takes in less revenue than expected.

The 112-campus community college system will lose $400 million in state funding and fees will increase from $26 to $36 per unit. The system could lose another $72 million and raise fees to $46 per unit if revenue projections fall short.

UC officials said Friday they will recommend that the Board of Regents consider raising undergraduate tuition by an additional 9.6 percent to offset the deeper-than-expected funding cut. Tuition is already set to rise 8 percent this fall to about $12,000, about three times what students paid a decade ago.

In an interview with The Associated Press, UC President Mark Yudof said higher tuition will cause hardship for many students, but he sees little choice when the university faces a $1 billion budget shortfall driven by rising costs and shrinking public support.

His biggest worry is losing the academic talent that has made UC one of the world’s top research universities, Yudof said. UC San Diego recently lost three star scientists to Rice University, a deep-pocketed private institution in Houston.

“You can’t starve this university for many years without there being consequences,” Yudof said. “There’s going to be a lot of pain. I don’t deny that. But on my watch we’re not going to see a dilution of the quality of the University of California.”

The prospect of rising tuition is weighing heavily on students like Dior Sweeney, a UC Berkeley senior who works two jobs while going to school but still expects to graduate with more than $20,000 in student loans to repay.

“I’m really worried about how I’m going to pay for rent, transportation and food,” said Sweeney, a liberal arts major. “It’s definitely stressful, especially with the economy the way it is. So many people I know can’t even get jobs with a B.A. What kind of job am I going to get to pay off all these loans?”

California State University students are also bracing for another tuition hike on top of a previously approved 10 percent increase that will bring in-state tuition to $4,884, more than three times what CSU charged 10 years ago.

When it meets July 12, the CSU Board of Trustees will vote on raising tuition by an additional 10 to 15 percent this fall, said university spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp. Campuses may also have to reduce their teaching staffs and turn away more students to save money.

Sadaf Malik, a biology student at San Francisco State University, said she and her father are working as many hours as they can to pay for her school bills. She has been taking summer classes at a local community college because she wasn’t able to get the courses she needs to graduate at SF State.

“I’m paying more for a poorer quality of education and fewer classes,” said Malik, 20, who hopes to go to medical school. “It seems every year I’m getting less and less for my money.”

The state budget cuts mean California’s community colleges, which serve 2.75 million students, will be reducing course offerings despite record demand from high school graduates, returning war veterans and unemployed workers trying to learn new skills, said Dan Troy, the system’s vice chancellor for fiscal policy.

“The state has to get real about its priorities,” Troy said. “If we’re serious about ensuring a bright economic future, funding higher education is a huge part of that.”

Democrats blamed Republicans for the deep cuts to higher education and other public services because they refused to support the governor’s proposal to extend temporary increases to the sales, vehicle and income taxes the Legislature approved two years ago.

“Yes, you may have a little bit more money in your pocket, but at the same time, look at the impact on access for young people throughout California to be able to get a higher education,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

Republicans fault Democrats for their unwillingness to go against union-controlled education spending, roll back public employee pensions and make colleges more efficient.

“The Democrats have never offered any reform on any level of the education spectrum,” said Assemblyman Jeff Miller, R-Corona, a member of the Assembly higher education committee.

William Tierney, director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at the University of Southern California, said the budget cuts to colleges and universities could have a lasting impact on California’s economy and future.

Without a major expansion of higher education, Tierney said, “We’re going to have an uneducated work force. The jobs will go elsewhere. Clearly an uneducated work force doesn’t generate as much tax revenue.”

Associated Press Writers Don Thompson and Adam Weintraub in Sacramento contributed to this report

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