State, National Budget Deficits Affect UC System

By Rio Bauce Special to the Planet
Thursday January 15, 2009 - 07:22:00 PM

As the U.S. Congressional Budget Office announced last week that the federal budget deficit is going to hit $1.2 trillion in fiscal year 2009, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that he would like to cut $210 million from the University of California’s budget in order to reduce the state budget deficit.  

In response, UC President Mark G. Yudof announced that a fee hike in student tuition for all the UC campuses for 2009-2010 is likely, should the California state Legislature adopt Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget reductions. 

“In the context of the current state fiscal crisis, the governor’s budget proposal does not provide the funding increase the Regents sought for 2009-10 in order to fund enrollment growth, cover increasing energy costs and other inflationary costs, and prevent a student fee increase at the University of California,” said Yudof in a press release. 

Jasper Hitchen, former Berkeley High School student who is now a freshman at UCLA, admits that a fee increase would place him in a greater bubble of debt. 

“These fee hikes just serve to increase the amount of debt I’m under when I graduate, perhaps another few months of student loan payments after graduation,” he said. 

While the situation appears bleak, many UC students, however, are not surprised at the notion of fee increases, given the state of the national economy. 

“It seems like it’s inevitable, given the current economic situation ... but it would suck,” said UC Berkeley freshman Anna Akullian, another Berkeley High graduate. “One reason I chose [UC] Berkeley over a private school is because it gives me the opportunity to travel and do other stuff I want and not worry about money as much.” 

However, UC spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez characterized the fee increases as not sea-changing. 

“This is a very difficult time for everyone given the economic situation,” said Vazquez. “For UC students who receive the Cal Grant, they would receive less aid. However, for financial aid in general, it would mean a slight increase in work-study and loan amounts at an average of $200.” 

In order to address the $210 million shortfall, Yudof went to the UC Board of Regents Wednesday to make a plea that they consider plans that would curtail undergraduate enrollment growth for six UC universities and freeze salaries and restrict compensation for senior administrators. 

In his plan to curtail undergraduate admission, Yudof recommends admitting 2,300 fewer freshmen for the 2009–10 academic year, should the governor’s budget be passed. For this year, 37,600 incoming freshmen were admitted to the UC system, while next year, under this plan, only 35,300 applicants would be admitted. UC Berkeley would not be affected under the Yudof plan to curtail enrollment growth. 

“I have always been reluctant to constrain freshman access to the university, but the absence of state funding for enrollment growth and continuing budget cuts have left us no choice if we are to protect the quality of the instructional program we offer,” Yudof said. “The enrollment reductions in the proposal are both modest and gradual and are intended to bring enrollment into closer alignment with our resources over a period of years. As much as possible, I want to limit the disruption for students who have worked hard to make themselves UC-eligible. Also, as families and students face uncertainty during this severe economic downturn, we need to keep open cost-effective paths to UC, such as the community college transfer route.” 

In its November meeting, the Board of Regents showed interest in curtailing enrollment growth, should the governor give less money for next year. 

The governor’s proposed budget includes a total $644 million reduction in funds for overall higher education, a 5.5 percent decrease from fiscal year 2008–09.