Legislature needs to increase funding for UC and CSU

The following Op-Ed by CFT President Joshua Pechthalt originally ran in the San Francisco Chronicle on Nov. 24. You can read the Op-Ed below, as well as here.


Proposition 30 is the best thing to happen to public education and the economy in California in a generation. Two years after voters adopted the tax measure, funding for public education has rebounded and the state economy and budget have improved.

The students protesting the decision by the University of California Regents to raise tuition 28 percent over the next five years have every right to be angry. Years of escalating tuition and fee increases for higher education have put a college education out of reach for too many families in this country. Students able to borrow the money will be saddled with debt for as long as 30 or 40 years. No wonder they are angry.

The people of California have done their part by voting to adopt Proposition 30 as a way to restore funding for public education. The governor and legislative leadership should announce plans to put significant additional revenue into public higher education, and call on the regents to rescind their decision to raise tuition.

The governor has rightly opposed the tuition increases, but he needs to provide a way forward and not simply dig in his heels and threaten to cut funding to the UC system in retaliation. As a result of Prop. 30 and a growing economy, state revenues have exceeded expectations. The state’s Legislative Analyst Office just announced that California will probably collect $2 billion more in revenue than estimated in the budget. The governor and the Legislature should act immediately to direct some of that revenue to the UC and CSU systems while continuing to insist that tuition and fees are frozen at pre-Prop. 30 levels.

The call to rein in higher education costs for students is growing by the day and underscores the escalating anger at the deepening divide between working and middle-class families on the one hand and economic elites on the other. Simply put, when getting a degree from a public college or university results in an average debt of $28,400 per student, according to theInstitute for College Access and Success, many students in this country will be priced out of pursuing their dreams.

Our country’s families have been saddled with enormous student loan debt, currently exceeding $1 trillion. The ripple effects of that kind of indebtedness will be to put home ownership out of reach for the next generation of young people, dampen consumer spending and lead to even greater levels of economic inequality than we already see.

The intransigence of the UC regents and the governor has the potential to divide the higher education community. But students, faculty and staff in our UC system understand that the only reasonable path forward is to freeze tuition costs while insisting the state properly fund this world-class institution. University administrators and regents should agree, in exchange, to a greater degree of transparency in how taxpayer dollars are spent, rather than demand a blank check from the state, which could fuel continued administrative bloat.

In addition, as Gov. Jerry Brown has pointed out, the regents haven’t explored all internal avenues to preventing tuition increases. UC’s reserves include its endowment and working capital investment funds. These have other purposes, but the primary purpose of the university is to educate students. The interest alone on these funds, or some portion of, could be used in lieu of a tuition increase. Whether from the state or from these sources, the top priorities should be directing resources to the classroom and keeping education affordable.

The solution to this problem is right in front of us. We just need the adults in the room to stop their posturing and act in the best interest of California’s students and their families.