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California Budget Deal Cuts Higher Ed, Saves Financial Aid

After marathon sessions including all-nighters, the California Legislature has passed a budget deal that will bring new gloom to higher education by slashing funding for public colleges by $2.8 billion and school districts and community colleges by $5.7 billion.

The cuts are part of a deal worked out by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to plug a $26 billion hole in the state’s $92 billion general fund budget by slicing funds for education, prisons, transportation and localities. The Legislature ended up approving cuts of $24 billion after rejecting Schwarzenegger’s calls for a $2 billion reserve fund.

Although public higher education is being whipsawed again by the cuts, the damage seems not as great as once feared since the state’s student financing arm will not be touched.

The University of California and California State University systems are expected to see cuts of about $2.8 billion on top of a cut of $548 million approved earlier. The 100-campus community college system and other school districts will see further funding cuts of $5.7 billion. This would be in addition to the $8 billion in cuts for schools and community colleges proposed earlier this year.

The results will be fewer course offerings, more layoffs, fewer faculty hires and higher student fees. “This means fewer teaching assistants, raised fees and more furloughs,” UC President Mark Yudof said in an interview on his system’s Web site. “I call it the anti-stimulus package.”

On the bright side, legislators are not expected to go after the state’s CalGrants student finance program. The largest such program in the state, the CalGrants program helps 46,000 students, many from lower- and middle-income families. It is especially helpful for students in community colleges. Moreover, UC President Yudof has said that all eligible students will receive their grants this fall regardless of what happens with the Legislature.

State officials claim that while higher education will see $2.8 billion in cuts, some of that, about $1.1 billion, will be made up by President Barack Obama’s federal economic stimulus program. Some still remain skeptical.

“They say that the stimulus money will help, but no one has been told how much money will be available for this fall,” says Brian Ferguson, a communications specialist with the California Faculty Association.

Students at the University of California and the California State University systems already face tuition hikes of 20 percent because of the state’s financial crisis. Student enrollment in the CSU will be reduced by 40,000 students. The University of California at Berkeley is expected to hire only 10 new faculty members this year instead of the usual 100.

Although teachers’ unions seemed resigned to the cuts and regard them as necessary, some students have taken to protests and demonstration to express their disapproval.

Last week, for instance, about 200 students staged a 48-hour-long protest at a CSU administrator’s office in Long Beach. Their chief complaint: tuition and fee hikes of 30 percent, says Ferguson of the California Faculty Association.

Schwarzenegger is expected to sign the cuts into law this week. No more cuts are expected this year.

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