A recent survey shows Californians like their public higher education but are less receptive of footing the bill.
The non-partisan think-tank Public Policy Institute of California released its findings, which show Californians perceive the state’s public colleges and universities as “good.” According to the study, over 60 percent of participants rated California’s community colleges, California State Universities and UCs as “excellent” or “good.”
These confidence levels are relatively unchanged from survey results up to two years ago, where two out of three residents gave the institutions high marks for quality.
Large majorities also perceive student fee increases in response to state budget cuts as problems. Nearly 90 percent of Californians are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about student fee hikes.
Yet when asked whether raising taxes or increasing student fees would be a solution, residents were less decisive. Fifty-six percent of Californians say they would not be willing to pay higher taxes to mitigate the state budget cuts. Only 41 percent said they would.
“Although the public values the public higher education system in the state and see spending in this area as a high priority,” said Sonja Petek, a PPIC research associate, “they’re still facing the same economic realities that the schools are facing.”
The only other solution that gained slim support from Californians was a hypothetical bond measure for university construction projects. Fifty-three percent would support such a measure, while 40 percent oppose.
Petek ascribes public support for a bond measure over taxes for the immediate impact each solution would have on taxpayers’ finances.
“I think it’s simply the fact that taxes affect everybody’s pocket books immediately, while bonds can be paid overtime,” Petek said.
This study coincides with the UC Regents meeting in which the body passed a budget that requested $913 million in state funding. State Assembly Speaker and Regent Karen Bass said she would advocate for higher taxes to fund higher education.
While students are concerned with problems in funding higher education, they also understand why Californians may be reluctant to have their taxes raised.
“It’s understandable why Californians don’t want their taxes raised,” said sophomore chemistry major Michael Chen. “Even though it would be for the next generation of California, it might create a burden on residents. Hopefully there might be other ways to help higher education that do not have to raise taxes.”
Californians also expressed disapproval of the way the state legislators and the governor are handling public higher education. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger garnered 21 percent support for his management of the state’s public universities. Approval for the legislature’s performance stood at 16 percent.
“Those people didn’t get there magically,” said Tom Timar, professor of education and expert in education finance and governance. “Somebody had to vote for those people.”
Timar said the public has shown commitment and insisted on reinvesting in higher education from their state leaders. He said Californians might be pushed to pressure their leaders by shocks to the system.
“I think it will take a real crisis, like a 32 percent fee increase, for the public to wake up and feel that it is a serious problem,” Timar said.
“This is not a new phenomenon. This has been happening over the past 20 years. I think politicians have to be held accountable for this.”
LESLIE TSAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.