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California college leaders press for more taxpayer funding from state legislature

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POSTED May 1, 2012 6:02 p.m.

 

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — The leaders of California's three higher education systems warned Tuesday that more budget cuts will hurt the state's economic recovery.

The heads of the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges spent the day lobbying state lawmakers and the governor's office to make higher education a priority as they prepare to put together a new spending plan for 2012-13.

Frustration over rising tuition and fewer courses have been playing out across California's college campuses. At the same time, administrators have been criticized for handing out handsome compensation packages.

CSU Chancellor Charles Reed said he hears the students but noted that higher education funding is at 40-year lows. The UC and CSU systems have been cut about $1 billion over the past two years, which has resulted in double-digit tuition hikes, he said.

"For the California State University, our dollars are the same as we had in 1996, but we have 90,000 more students today," Reed said. "California's economic recovery is based upon funding higher education, and it has been neglected for the past several years. And if the governor and the Legislature don't start funding higher education, California is not going to recover from this slump in the economy."

Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, is promoting a tax hike on the November ballot. If voters reject his initiative, Brown has said the UC and CSU systems each would face another $200 million reduction. Community colleges would be cut another $298 million, forcing colleges to slash course offerings, lay off staff and take on additional borrowing.

A message left for the governor's office was not immediately returned Tuesday.

California community colleges have experienced more than $800 million in cuts over the past three years, causing them to turn away about 200,000 students and drastically cut course offerings. The system has 2.6 million students.

Tuition at the four-year campuses has nearly doubled in the past five years, to $13,000 for resident undergraduates at UC campuses and to $6,400 at CSU schools. Community college fees are set to rise to $46 per unit by this summer, up from $20 per unit in 2007.

Brown's initiative would fund education and public safety programs by temporarily raising income taxes on people who make more than $250,000 a year and temporarily increasing the sales tax by a quarter cent.

Kevin Feliciano, 23, a public administration major at Ohlone College in Fremont, said budget cuts have reduced course offerings to the point where students can get only one or two classes they need instead of four or five.

"The culture has changed," Feliciano said. "Students are afraid to drop classes."

Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, on Tuesday criticized a proposed executive compensation policy by the CSU's Board of Trustees, which would allow the use of university foundation money to give raises to administrators. Yee had proposed a bill to ban executive pay hikes during bad budget years or when student fees increase, but it failed to pass a committee.

"Once again, the CSU administration has put lining the pockets of their six-figure executives before the needs of students," Yee said in a statement.

In March, CSU trustees approved 10 percent pay hikes for two campus presidents just as administrators outlined a plan for sweeping cuts that will deny admission to thousands of students.

The trustees approved a base salary of $303,660 for CSU East Bay President Leroy Morishita and $324,500 for CSU Fullerton President Mildred Garcia, as well as $12,000 car allowances and $60,000 housing allowances for each.

CSU plans to hold off on admitting students for fall 2013 until after the November election. If the tax measure fails, fall enrollment would be cut another 20,000 students and 3,000 employees would be laid off.

UC President Mark Yudof told a crowd of college representatives at the Capitol on Tuesday that compensation is not out of control. He said tuition remains relatively affordable at the system's 10 campuses compared to private colleges.

Yudof said the average student carries a debt of $17,000. "It would be better if it was closer to zero, but it's not the $100,000 you see in the newspapers," he said.

 

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