The Undervaluation of California Higher Education

Today welcomed newly inaugurated California Governor Jerry Brown's unveiling of his proposed budget for 2011-2012. As with every budget cycle since the energy crisis hit California hard in 2002, drastic cuts were experienced by a host of programs, primarily those affecting the delivery of social services and, as has sadly become customary, higher education. It was essentially the budget "Groundhog Day" that University of California and California State University students have been experiencing since the first tuition increases that were approved by the University of California Regents in December 2002.

Californians, especially those members of my generation and our younger cohort, are reminded that in California, we have a K-12 system we refuse to fix and a higher education system we refuse to fund. In a state that plays host to companies valued at billions of dollars, we place little value in the educational institutions that have produced much of the talent that drives the economy in this state.

In December 2002, in order to accommodate for potential cuts, the UC Regents decided to increase student fees for Spring Quarter 2003. The willingness of the UC to raise fees quickly in response to the release of the 2003-2004 California Governor's Proposed Budget made it evident that the systems were willing to levy the necessary "fees" on their students for continuance of the same operating budget. This pattern has continued to develop ever since, leading to a compromise that rendered consistent fee increases. Marked fee increases have become institutionalized at both the UC and CSU.

In the transition from what were supposed to be smaller, short-term fee increases to consistent 10-15% increases in "fees" for attendance to these institutions, the complex, multifaceted power struggle that was taking place between California's representatives and the boards of trustees who had been empowered to be our representatives as students was being had at the expense of students.

Despite a commitment to California higher education first outlined in 1960 in the appropriately named, "A Master Plan for Higher Education," the promise of providing such education at affordable rates is empty. Modern revisions to the Plan may state, "An accessible and excellent education system is essential to the cultural, political, and economic health of a nation or state," but actions of those responsible for this public trust reflect a lack of value assigned to the idea of affordable and quality education.

While Epictetus gave us the idea, "Only the educated are free," it is certainly not free to give or acquire that education. The days of free education for college students in California were gone long ago. What is further troubling is that this attitude towards education is taken at the K-12 level, where we fail to give children the basic skill set to participate in our economy, nonetheless, attend college.

But, education, on all levels, is not just about the "now," it is about the future, a future that even in my time at the University of California, many had to forfeit due to the costs of financing education. The duality of living in a state that works to foster business growth and innovation while at the same time stymieing homegrown talent through education is baffling. It is only the hope of this Anteater that we recognize the dangers of undervaluing higher education before it's too late.