I’ve always held the belief that the process of making decisions is really very simple. Most of the time, you already know what’s right and wrong, and the only real decision that you need to make that day is whether or not you’re feeling naughty. If there is any validity to this time-tested theory (and I assure you, it’s quite possible that there is not), then the facts released at last week’s UC Day show that the legislative officials responsible for the operations of the UC system have a long history of soiling the proverbial bed.
For some time now, California legislators have erroneously viewed the UC as an expenditure rather than an investment. In actuality, the University of California contributes over $14 billion in California economic activity and more than $4 billion in state and local tax revenue every year, so the only real explanation for the current $417 million budget deficit is that someone over at the state capitol is trying to make Forrest Gump look like Alfred Nobel.
Unfortunately, this trend of making poor decisions is not a recent development. According to literature distributed at UC Day, California’s population has increased 35 percent over the last 20 years, while state funding for the UC system has decreased by 9 percent. It’s also important to note that higher education funding was the only major part of California’s budget that has grown more slowly than population. Seeing such statistics has left many concerned Californians scratching their heads and wondering how legislators could abandon what has been such a sound investment in the past.
What makes the current situation even worse is that the solutions being proposed to handle such a large deficit will ultimately make the UC system less accessible to potential students, and therefore mitigate the UC’s contribution to the state economy. Perhaps the most detrimental of these proposed solutions is the possibility of student fees increasing by more than 10 percent for the upcoming 2008-2009 academic year. However, while common sense and reason would beg to differ, UC officials claim that such drastic tuition increases would not affect the universities’ financial accessibility to low income students. This statement seems flawed when one considers that a student whose parents’ income is less than $100,000 would pay less to attend top-tier private institutions such as Stanford, Harvard and Yale than they would to attend UC Davis.
This long history of irresponsible decision making seems to say that California legislators want to create the illusion of a state-funded public university without actually assuming any of the financial responsibilities. Currently, less than 20 percent of the UC’s budget actually comes from the State of California, and this number seems to be growing smaller every year. Eventually, California legislators will be forced to make a decision as to whether or not the University of California is a cause worth funding; if these current decisions are any indication as to how much value is placed on affordable public education, students should not be surprised to see fees skyrocket in the future.
One of the few positive aspects that can be taken away from this year’s UC Day is the fact that students did not go unheard. While all of the figures seem to spell disaster for those attending UCs, student advocacy groups who attended are determined not to go down without a fight. Hopefully seeing such organization and potential displayed by such groups will cause a few legislators to open their eyes and realize that the UC is possibly one of the most valuable assets that the state of California has, and that to turn their back on such a wise investment would simply be foolish.
Assuming that campus e-mail services are not cut due to this year’s budget deficit, JAMES NOONAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep those fingers crossed.