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California's Education: Flunking Out (1997)

"Turning the UC system into a elite institution
for California's brightest, whitest and richest."

University of California Student Association
Oakland, California

For the first time this decade, except perhaps during Clinton's 1992 presidential race, politicians are talking about education. Finally it seems that the "fearless" leaders of our state and nation are beginning to get it: that education is the most effective tool against crime, poverty, "juvenile deliquence" and the many other political scapegoat issues of the '90s.

Well maybe they don't exactly get it:

  • Governor Wilson and Attorney General Dan Lungren campaigned actively for Proposition 209 this past year, which will wipe out access to higher education for thousands of people of color and women. The Democratic Party barely came out in opposition against the initiative.
  • Last year for the first time in California's history, Wilson allocated more money to prisons that higher education.

But the political rhetoric is changing, and education is gradually becoming a sexy enough issue to make it safe for the politicos, Republicans and Democrats alike, to come out and actively support it.

Unfortunately, rhetoric alone doesn't fix the problem of California's decaying education system. In fact, it only confuses the issue, as state officials merely give the appearance of supporting education funding, but still fail, literally, to put their money where their mouths are.

This is the third year that Wilson has graciously "bought-out" UC student fee increases. After five years of the most drastic fee increases the UC has ever seen (fees went from approximately $1624/year in 1990 to $3799/year today) Wilson decides to suddenly bestow a temporary fee-freeze. He also kicked in more money for financial aid.

On the surface, his gestures appear pro-student. But deeper down, his actions cover-up the continuation of unofficial state policy which is turning the UC system into a elite institution for California's brightest, whitest and richest. Wilson's increase of financial aid funding only targets private school students, and his supposed fee "buy-out" doesn't include non-resident or professional students. And worse, Californian legislators are complicit with the lack of any sort of outreach strategy to increase eligibility rates of low-income students of color as the post-affirmative action era descends upon the UC.

UC administrators aren't helping out much in the crisis of educational access. The Regent's 96-97 budget proposed a 9.6% fee increase. The UC Office of the President (UCOP) has introduced at least six new fee policies over the past few years - all which put exorbitant price tags on every aspect of learning: from e-mail and test tubes to extended enrollment (for all of you on the five or six year graduation plan). And now, UC Budget Director Larry Hershman is proposing a new fee policy which would link fee hikes to growth in personal income - which would increase fees approximately 4.5%/year.

Meanwhile, the high-society life of UC officials has changed little since the budget crisis. Top-level administrator salaries rose once again this January; and UCOP is shelling out $32 million for a new office building. According to Professor Emeritus Charles Schwart, UCOP did not make substantial budget cuts during the '90s budget crisis, and could pair down the bureaucracy by $100 million. This would fund a 11.8% fee rollback, or a 44.9% increase in student services. Clearly this is not in the UCOP plan: their budget allocates no new money for student services, libraries or public service.

Back in the day when students were hit with 40% fee increases/year, the blame always fell on the state recession. Those days have long gone, and yet Wilson and the state legislature have not moved to repair the damage caused by education budget cuts. California needs a long term strategy which aggressively restores access and affordability to the thousands of students who now can only dream about attending the UC.

Here are some highlights from Wilson's budget:
  • no fee increases for undergraduate and graduate students
  • 15% fee increase for non-resident students
  • $2,000/year increase for selected professional and graduate students. A first-year, non-resident law student will pay tuition and fees totaling $19,436. This figure does not include $8,000 in living expenses.
  • $10 million increase for private school Cal Grants - none for public schools. $10 million could fund 3,300 UC students at the average Cal Grant award.

The above article was originally printed in the UCSA Update and is published here with permission of the University of California Student Association.

Published in In Motion Magazine March 9, 1997.