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Davis, California

Monday, September 27, 2021

Editorial: ‘Full funding’ needs to be defined

In case you’ve been living under a rock, California is in the midst of a bit of a budget crisis.

This is creating a problem with our state’s higher educational system, with UC, CSU and community colleges all receiving less funding. UC students, meanwhile, are potentially facing fee hikes of 32 percent beginning this spring.

This is a real issue. So how do we deal with it? In his guest opinion on Oct. 1, San Francisco mayor and gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom said he believes in fully funding the higher education system in this state, saying that rolling back student fees will be his “top priority upon taking office” as governor.

Then, on Oct. 6, we responded by asking Newsom how he’d address this education issue. Simply put, if he cuts the cost of a college education like he says he will, funding would have to be cut dramatically from another part of the budget to offset the cost. That’s just common sense.

So where’s the money coming from? On Tuesday, Newsom answered that question – in part – with another guest opinion.

In his most recent letter, Newsom said he doesn’t feel we need to make a hypothetical budget looking 18 months into the future, arguing that we can accomplish more with the resources we have.

We realize that it is impossible to predict what the budget will look like in 18 months, but we would like to see more specific ideas about how to fund the educational promises he is making. How can students plan for fee increases if they do not know what to expect?

Newsom did write, however, that the state needs to create “efficiencies in California’s corrections system by focusing on rehabilitation.” This statement seems to suggest cuts in prison spending. If the savings on those cuts are used for education, we’re all for that.

Newsom added that we need to create a universal public health option, which would reduce our statewide healthcare bills.

Then Newsom asked our opinion to determine exactly what “full funding” for our state’s higher education system should look like.

“Are we talking about restoring capacity at a prior year’s level? If so, which year?” Newsom asked. “Or should we guarantee some sort of expansion of capacity, and if so, by how much?”

Our student population is increasing, but funding is declining. The fact of the matter is as the number of students rise, state funding to the higher education system should rise, too.

That’s our definition of “fully funded” – if enrollment is increasing, funding needs to increase at a proportional rate. If enrollment and fees are going up and state funding is going down, that doesn’t sound “fully funded” at all.

Another big problem is that these fee hikes have been presented to students at odd times. Why are fees increasing in the spring, after financial aid was determined for students for the entire academic year prior to the start of the fall term?

Students should know how much a full year of school will cost prior to the start of that year. No more unexpected increases. Better yet, students should know how much their degree would cost as a whole. It wouldn’t be too difficult to plan these fee hikes out, say, four years in advance. That way, students would be able to fully prepare themselves for the cost of their education.

It’s obvious that this budget disaster will be difficult to solve. It’s unrealistic for us to ask the state to return our funding to its 2001 levels while everyone else is stuck in the present.

So let’s make a standard starting with the 2009-2010 costs for higher education. If enrollment goes up for the 2010-2011 academic year, state funding needs to go up. If enrollment drops, then funding can drop too.

The most important point is if Newsom calls solving the higher education system a top priority, then he needs to make it one.

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