College Admission Cuts Jeopardize the California Dream

Friday July 09, 2004

One of the things long separating California from other states has been the quality of its higher-education system. Forty years ago, Californians embraced the Higher Education Master Plan, which set aside spaces for California’s high-school graduates in the University of California, California State University and community-college systems.  

But for the first time since that plan was developed, qualified students—11,000 of them—will be turned away from UC and CSU this fall. I believe this is a bad investment decision and an unwise and unnecessary diminishing of the California dream that has made our state unique.  

That quality education has also made a big difference in my own family. My father was the first in his family to get past eighth grade. His success with higher education made a big difference not just in his life, but in the lives of my mother, brothers and myself, who have had similar levels of achievement. The investment taxpayers made in us has been more than paid back with our ability to pay taxes, support the economy and contribute to our communities.  

Forty years ago, Gov. Pat Brown’s California economic-development strategy included new roads and water projects, and good health care and education systems. He believed that where public and social infrastructure was lacking, the economy would not develop. His vision, supported by the Legislature and the people, helped boost California’s economy to fifth-largest in the world.  

Today, just as before, we need a visionary economic development strategy. Unfortunately, the governor’s higher-education budget proposals include:  

• Denying access to 11,000 qualified high-school graduates this fall.  

• Raising undergraduate fees for UC and CSU, increased 40 percent over the past two years, by another 14 percent.  

• Reducing “outreach” programs that help at-risk students succeed in higher education.  

• Increasing Cal Grant income eligibility levels.  

• Cutting basic support for higher-education operations on top of major reductions last year, requiring cuts that directly affect the ability of the institutions to function.  

• Raising graduate fees by 20 percent on top of similar increases last year, jeopardizing California’s ability to produce teachers, physicians, nurses and others in critical professions experiencing shortages.  

In addition to turning away qualified students for the first time, these actions would make it harder for lower- and middle-income families to afford to send their children to UC and CSU in the future. These proposals would further hold back our struggling economy by reducing the number of qualified graduates entering the work force.  

Community colleges are funded differently (within the Proposition 98 funding guarantees), yet face similar financial constraints on their ability to operate and be accessible. I am working with a coalition of education groups to give community colleges a fair share of guaranteed funding in a manner that does not jeopardize K-12 education.  

The governor has proposed his cuts to higher education after closed-door negotiations with the leadership of UC and CSU. While it is good to work with university leadership to close the record budget gap, parents, students, staff members and the Legislature were not included. It is time to publicly review those agreements with respect to what is best for the future of everyone in California.  

In the next few weeks, final decisions will be made as the Legislature votes on the governor’s proposals. The cost of preserving California’s historic commitment to qualified student access at CSU and UC would be $46 million. The governor has suggested making this cut, while at the same time proposing to establish a $900 million reserve.  

Blocking access to California’s higher-education systems, along with the governor’s other proposed cuts in higher education, must not be part of the final budget solution. We are in a fiscal crisis. But we should not make short-sighted and destructive decisions as if we have no alternative.  

I believe we should invest in opportunity, an investment that pays dividends to our state, both financially to the state economy and budget, and also in happier and more successful citizens. It is part of California’s dream—and it is a cornerstone to economic competitiveness. To preserve the promise of California, we must restore these cuts.  


John Laird represents Santa Cruz in the State Assembly.