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Francisco State University has cut 354
courses, turning the first day of the fall
semester into a chaotic free for all, with
students “crashing” courses that were
well beyond capacity and begging faculty
to let them in. Some said they were
giving up and quitting school, unable
to enroll in the required courses they
needed to eventually earn a degree.
In fact, in spite of the increased
demand, California’s universities and
colleges are intentionally shrinking their
enrollments.The overburdened community colleges, flooded
with a record 2.9million students this fall, nonetheless reduced
course offerings by 20 percent.That’s 600 classes in the San
Diego Community College district, for example, which told
some 18,000 students—more thanmost American community
colleges enroll—to come back in the spring.
The Campaign for College Opportunity, a coalition of
business, labor and education leaders, estimates that the
community colleges will ultimately have to turn away as
many as 250,000 students.The Cal State system is following
through on threats made during state budget deliberations
to slash enrollment by 40,000, or almost ten percent. “It’s
become this game of chicken, where the university says, ‘Well
if you’re not going to give us money, we can’t take people,’” said
Nancy Shulock, director of the Institute for Higher Education
Leadership &Policy at Sacramento State University. Responded
Reed: “What am I going to do? If I have half a billion dollars
less, what am I going to do?We have
to ensure that the degree still means
something.”

Whatever the degreemeans, it
certainly costs a lot more than it used to.
OnNovember 19, in a UCLA
meeting room ringed by helmeted
police in riot gear with tasers,
surrounded by a crowd of angry
students chanting, “Shame on you,”
and singing “We Shall Overcome,”
the University of California Board
of Regents met.They voted 20-1 to
approve a 32 percent increase in the
cost of attending a UC school, which
will rise by $2,500 per student, to about
$10,300, not including roomand
board and other fees—more, for the
first time, than top public universities
inNewYork, Illinois, Michigan and
Virginia. Students will see amid-year
increase of 15 percent starting in
January.
The regents said they had no choice,
and that the blame belonged with the legislature. Fourteen of
the protesters at UCLA, 12 of them students, were arrested.
In the following days, protests erupted at Berkeley andUC
Santa Cruz (where students occupied campus buildings), and
at UCDavis. Scores of people were arrested at Berkeley and
Davis. Protesters at Santa Cruz relinquished an administration
building after a tense standoffwith police officers in riot gear.
On the same day that the UCRegents voted, Cal State’s
Board of Trustees approved an $884million budget request to
the legislature, which would restoremoney previously cut and
add new funding. However, it will not be known how likely this
is until the governor releases his next budget in January.
In themeantime, the highly publicized reductions in
enrollment at California’s colleges and universities have driven
record numbers of panicked high school seniors to apply early
for admission to the public universities. More than 25,000
submitted applications on the first day of the admission period,
and 66,000 in the first week, double the usual number, heeding
warnings that at least 12 campuses would slam the doors shut
onNovember 30—not only on prospective freshmen, but also
on transfer students from the community colleges.
Even the University of California has said that it is
overenrolled by 11,000 students and will likely take fewer
applicants next fall. At Berkeley, there is a conscious effort to
accept fewer state residents, in deference to out-of-state students
whose considerably higher fees generate an extra $23,000
apiece. Berkeley wants its proportion of out-of-state students to
nearly double, from12 percent to 23 percent. “We’re rationing
education here,” one insider grumbled.
As inmany states, which have steadily reduced their share
of the cost of public higher education, the calamity in California
started well before this academic year.The share of the battered
state budget that goes to higher education has been cut nearly in
half, fromalmost 20 percent in the 1980s to ten percent today,
while the proportion spent on prisons has tripled, from three
percent to nine percent.
California has climbed to fourth among the 50 states in
payments for prisons as a percentage of personal income, while
plummeting to 29th by the samemeasure in spending on
education.
Combined with previous rounds of cuts, California’s
universities have lost two-thirds of their state allocations, when
adjusted for inflation, since the early 1990s.That means they
now get $7,730 from the state per student, compared to an
inflation-adjusted $15,860 in 1990, University of California
President Mark Yudof has said.
In a state whose celebrated 1960Master Plan for Higher
Education guaranteed tuition-free access, California’s public
universities have responded by increasing educational fees
(in anOrwellian twist, it’s still not called tuition) by 127
percent since 2001 at the University of California, even before
November’s increase, and by 161 percent at Cal State—11
percent and 13 percent per year, respectively.That’s far above
any increase in inflation or household income.
Meanwhile, financial aid to students provided under the
Cal Grant programwas mostly shielded from the budget cuts,
which is a relief to students, after Governor Schwarzenegger in
the spring proposed eliminating the programentirely. With the
increased fees and stagnant economy, there appears to be plenty
of need:The number of recipients of Cal Grants has exploded
by 68 percent since 2000, from179,860 to 301,972.
“We’re losing sight of what a public higher education
means—something that’s affordable and accessible to everyone,”
saidUtsav Gupta, student body president and a neuroscience
major at UC SanDiego. “Students are looking at the systemand
“We’re losing sight of what a public higher
education means—something that’s
affordable and accessible to everyone,”
says Utsav Gupta, student body president
at UC San Diego.
On November 19, the
University of California
Board of Regents voted
to approve a 32 percent
increase in the cost of
attending a UC school.
Axel Koster for CrossTalk