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February 09, 2012 3:03 PM Funding California Colleges: Brown Tries Again

By Daniel Luzer

California Governor Jerry Brown’s new plan to try to fund higher education is running into trouble. In an effort to try and stop the financial troubles in the Golden State’s public universities, he promised state revenues would increase, automatically. The proposed generosity is troublesome, however.

According to an article by Kevin Yamamura in the Sacramento Bee:

After the state slashed its higher education spending by 21 percent during the recession, the Democratic governor has proposed 4 percent annual increases to the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges for three fiscal years starting in 2013-14 — but only if voters approve his plan to hike taxes on sales and wealthy earners. If voters reject the plan, the systems would lose state funding in 2012-13.
Brown made the 4 percent promise as a sweetener to his tax proposal, which he’s trying to bill as a plan for funding education and public safety. The [California Legislative Analyst’s] Office recommended that lawmakers reject the 4 percent promise. Pledging to give automatic increases presents problems, the LAO said, because other parts of the budget could suffer, lawmakers would have little discretion if one higher education system needed more money than another, and the pledge ignores enrollment and inflation, among other reasons.

The problem is that the state can’t promise automatic funding increases if it can’t count on tax revenues to support those increases. And California can’t really do that, at least not anymore. Its economy is far too fragile. And the tax hikes might make that worse.

That wasn’t the only problem the office identified. According to the report the Legislative Analyst released yesterday, there’s also a problem with Brown’s proposal to increase the GPA needed for students to qualify for state-funded education grants.

Under Brown’s proposal, low-income students would need to earn a 3.25 GPA in high school in order to qualify for tuition waivers. (They currently need to earn only a 3.0.) As the report pointed out, however, this change would adversely affect 26,000 students. While the GPA requirement was apparently designed to improve completion rates, since better-prepared people are more likely to succeed in college, the reality is that the change “would have disproportionate impact on students with the greatest financial need,” according to the report. Apparently one third of students now covered by the waivers would become ineligible.

Since 2007, when the recession began in California, the state has hiked tuition at University of California campuses by 79 percent. California State University campuses have increased net tuition by 55 percent.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Anonymous on February 10, 2012 8:52 AM:

    Then again, since the state has cut per-student support for students at the state Universities by well over 50% -- that's MORE THAN HALF -- over the past decade, guaranteeing a restoration of a little over 12% doesn't seem like a wild and crazy policy. And that's not counting the substantial number of students above the number the state funds that the state university systems have taken on, responding to record levels of applications. The campuses take these students because their tuition covers the marginal cost of instruction with a little left over, but of course they dilute the overall quality of education a little, too.