With alarming regularity this summer, we were reminded how far California has retreated into the trenches of debt. With every bill passed and budget cut, we witnessed firsthand the biggest fiscal meltdown since the Great Depression.
To address the deepening financial crisis, lawmakers slashed millions from nearly every state function, including higher education, which must contend with a $3 billion budget reduction.
For the California State University system this has meant increasing student fees, furloughing staff and faculty, eliminating class sections and reducing student services.
Californiaâ€™s monetary guillotine cut higher education at its core. And now college students have assumed the burden of subsidizing the stateâ€™s debt.
The recent actions taken by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Legislature to balance the stateâ€™s $26 billion deficit contradict a promise made to college-age Californians more than four decades ago.
In 1960, state legislature adopted a measure drafted by the UC Regents and the State Board of Education that promised high-quality and affordable education for all California residents.
Known as Californiaâ€™s Master Plan for Education, the blueprint was heralded as the hallmark of public education and established the nationâ€™s largest educational system.
The plan was founded on the principle that investing in public education would yield economic returns that would help the state flourish. And until last month, it did.
Following the recent deep cuts imposed it is impossible for the Golden State to maintain its reputation for high-quality and affordable public education.
The sobering reality is that educational opportunities made available to all Californians may cease to exist folowing the next round of budget cuts.
Already, students have been forced to economize and sacrifice in order to finance their education. Some have even delayed graduation and forfeited health insurance because they could not meet the required minimum amount of semester units.
This is far removed from the mission outlined in the master plan.
Whatâ€™s more, the plan established a single continuum of access to public education and standardized admissions for students.
It assigned the CSU to select its freshmen from the top one-third of high school students and guaranteed that California residents in the top one-eighth of their high school graduating classes would be offered a place in the University of California system. Likewise, the community college transfer function to the UC and CSU set aside upper division places for California Community College transfer students. But this function has been placed on hold until state funding is able to match enrollment numbers.
Now, however, with recent enrollment freezes throughout the CSU and a 35,000 reduction in admissions, the inevitable void in college graduates will reduce the overall return on investments and impact California.
Historically, California has reaped the benefits of passing students through the educational system, as more than 90,000 students graduate from the CSU each year.
Funding shortfalls and rising student fees have jeopardized the Master Planâ€™s mission and potentially stunted our economic growth.
Worse, the state has reneged on its commitment to providing affordable education for all qualified Californians.