The Future of California is at Risk if We Don't #FundTheUC

Community Op-EdsOpinion

Caroline Siegel Singh speaks at the Jan 24, 2018 UC Regents Meeting.

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As we begin to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the University of California, it’s important to evaluate where we currently stand as a university system. Until the 1970s, California led the nation in both K-12 and higher education by offering a free UC education for all California residents. What has changed? State investment in education.

In 1960, when Clark Kerr created the California Master Plan, he and other state leaders envisioned a tuition-free system for educating the future generation of Californians. However, the state government has long strayed from this original vision. Today, tuition has increased by more than 300 percent, and this has contributed to the current average debt of UC undergraduates upon graduation hovering at $20,900. The California legislature made a promise to California’s students, but the numbers clearly show they haven’t been keeping that promise.

In 2004, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, UC President Robert C. Dynes, and CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed negotiated a private deal called the “Higher Education Compact” where funds collected from consistent tuition increases would be used to fund all three higher education systems struggling to recover from the recession. This deal signaled a major shift in the burden of higher education costs from the state to its students.

This stems from the fact that higher educational funding within the state of California is appropriated from the state’s general funds. There isn’t a specific byline in the budget for education, subjecting students to the whims of the legislature. When the economy crashed and California went into a recession in 2009, this funding model resulted in education funding taking a nosedive. As a result, the UC Board of Regents voted for a 32 percent increase in tuition. By 2011, the amount that in-state students were paying in tuition and associated fees had exceeded state appropriations. Students had become the largest financial contributors to the UC’s core operating funds.

In 2014, a proposal was put forward by the UC Regents to increase tuition by five percent for five years. After statewide organizing and actions, UC students were able to put enough pressure on the Board of Regents that a two-year tuition “freeze” was put in place. This tuition freeze ended in January 2017, when the board voted on and passed a three percent increase in tuition for in-state students.

On January 24 of this year, the UC Board of Regents planned to introduce and then vote on a 3 percent increase in tuition and a 5 percent increase in the student services fee on the same day. This was triggered by the release of the Governor’s state budget on January 10, which allocated the University of California a 3 percent increase in state appropriations versus the expected 4 percent. This left the UC short of millions of dollars in expected funding, further undermining the ability of the UC to educate the future of the state.

In order to combat this trend of state divestment, student leaders are mobilizing our campuses and elevating the voices of those most affected by tuition increases—UC students.

The next few months provide the California state legislature and its leaders with the opportunity to send a clear message: that they support public higher education in California. While the budget that was released in January does not properly fund higher education, we are hopeful that changes made in the May revision of the California state budget will augment this. Currently, the University of California is asking for $105 million in much-needed state funding to cover costs associated with (legislature mandated) increased enrollment and deferred maintenance on rapidly aging campuses such as UC Berkeley.

As one of California’s three university systems, the University of California is suffering from state divestment. As a result, the ability of California’s students to access a quality and affordable education needed in a competitive workforce is impacted as well. To invest in our higher education systems is to invest in the future of California.

So now that we know the issue, what’s a student to do? Put pressure on your state legislators to reinvest in higher education statewide. Demand a plan for sustainable long-term funding of California’s higher education systems. Call legislators’ offices, post on their social media, and show up at town halls. And with the 2018 elections coming up, students will have the opportunity to turn out to vote. Let’s make sure we put candidates in office who have our best interest in mind. It’s time we have a legislature that is willing to invest in the future of California.

Caroline Siegel Singh currently sits on the Associated Students of UC San Diego as a Senator and a UC Student Association Board Member.

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