California Higher Education: a System in Peril

by Abby Chau


They were told that there’s no low-hanging fruit. Just one month before the crucial Californian budget deadline at the end of June, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger told his constituents, who once enjoyed the status of ranking 8th in the world for their economic prowess, that they were essentially broke and that cuts to the state budget would be long and deep.   Schwarzenegger exclaimed, “California no longer has low-hanging fruit. As a matter of fact, we don’t have any medium-hanging fruit. We also don’t have high-hanging fruit. We literally have to take the ladder from the tree and shake the whole tree.”

With house foreclosures and record unemployment plaguing the Golden State, recession-vulnerable public expenditures like welfare programmes and higher education are on the chopping block. The Daily Californian reported that in January of this year, Schwarzenegger planned on suspending the new competitive Cal Grant awards and cutting the budget on educational enrolment growth. With the proverbial knife slashing educational expenditures, many people don’t remember that back in 2004 and in the name of a fiscal crisis, Schwarzenegger, along with the help of then UC President Robert Dynes and California State University Chancellor Charles Reed, was quick to cut the purse strings of public education in favour of privatisation by signing the Higher Education Compact.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “the compact substantially cut base public funding for higher education, required both UC and Cal State to impose large and rapid tuition increases as a permanent source of operating revenues, and committed our universities (in the compact’s own words) to ‘continue to seek additional private resources and maximize other fund sources available to the University to support basic programs.’

Now with unemployment hovering around 12% Californians may have to brace themselves for another and more substantial hit to their beloved higher education system. The economic crisis spurred on by the housing crisis and dubious financial trading and unchecked lending has robbed California twice, the second burglary will take the shape of whatever new economic policies will be crammed down their throats. They were will be told again that there is a new economic reality (one power players created) and everyone (except the people who caused it) will have to buckle down.

Governor Schwarzenegger has signalled recently that he will save higher education although this could only really be fiscally possible by eliminating welfare programmes, a compromise many Californians will find hard to stomach. Now with the budget proposal heading for a legislative vote soon, Californians are waiting for the other axe to fall, albeit hopefully this time with fewer confused fruit analogies hurled at them.,0,6849110.story

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