About 250 University of California students assembled at UC Davis this past weekend and in Sacramento to voice their concern over the rising cost of higher education.
Students from all over California gathered to attend the annual University of California Student Lobby Conference. The UC Students Association held workshops to teach students how to lobby state representatives and UC Regents. On Monday, attendees traveled to the state capital to voice their opinions to state legislators about the 2005-06 fee increase.
In mid-November, the UC Regents approved an 8 percent fee increase for undergraduate students and a 10 percent fee hike for graduate students. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also presented his state budget proposal last January, which removed a one-time allotment of $17 million to University outreach programs.
UCSB Associated Students state affairs organizing director and second-year sociology major Bill Shiebler attended the conference and said he was concerned about the cuts to outreach because the program brings diversity to the UC system.
“Why aren’t the University demographics matching the state’s?” Shiebler said. “It’s not an equal process… Outreach gives funding to kids.”
Shiebler said the state was also planning to cut 8 percent of financial aid funds and does not give enough money to higher education, spending too much on the “industrial prison complex.”
“[Prisons] went over the budget by $500 million last year, and the state bailed them out,” Shiebler said. “All that money wasn’t budgeted. Forty percent of that extra budget goes to overtime guards.”
But Margot Bach, a California Corrections Dept. spokeswoman, said her department receives considerably less money than higher education institutions. Bach said the department of corrections only constitutes 5.8 percent of the state’s operating budget, and there were several factors that caused the prisons to go into debt.
“It costs an average of $31,000 to house an inmate,” she said, “The inmate population was at its highest in 2004, with nearly 165,000 inmates [in state prisons].”
Bach also said the increase in inmates had to do with overcrowded county jails transferring their inmates to state prisons. She also said prison guards often work overtime to take another person’s shift when they get sick or when prisoners encounter medical issues.
“One-third of the inmate population has a chronic disease,” Bach said, “When there are medical issues, guards have to drive [inmates] back and forth.”
H.D. Palmer, California Finance Dept. spokesman, said higher education makes up 11.7 percent of the state budget, and K-12 education receives 41.9 percent of the state budget.
“Fifty-four cents out of every dollar are going toward education,” he said.
Palmer said the state is trying to make the fee increases predictable, and the state legislature had created a compact last year to have an average fee increase of 10 percent a year. He said the increases are not as high as they have been in the past.
“We have a $9 billion budget gap,” Palmer said, “There was a 40 percent fee increase over a two-year period nearly five years ago.”
Despite the large budget gap, many representatives from student governments at each UC are trying to reduce the increases. Misha Leybovich, Associated Students president at UC Berkeley, said his school has created an advocacy program, where students, parents, faculty and staff can e-mail letters directly to their representatives in the capital.
“Sacramento legislators tell us they’ve received thousands of e-mails in boxes,” Leybovich said
Rigo Marquez, A.S. vice president of external affairs at UC San Diego, said the student government is working to help the outreach program by holding several conferences and rallies.
“We are the least diverse [of the UCs]. Barely one percent of our students are black,” Marquez said. “Without outreach, how do you expect students of color to come here?”
UCSB A.S. External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Felicia Cruz, a third-year sociology major, also attended the UC Student Lobby Conference over the weekend. She said UCSB A.S. has done a lot of lobbying, and she went to state representatives before the budget was released.
“A month ago, a group of us came to Sacramento and asked how bad the budget will be and how we can handle [it],” Cruz said, “We’re asking students to write testimonials about how the cuts are affecting them.”
Cruz said that on Monday, students from each UC presented legislators with debt checks to symbolize how much they would owe after attending college in the UC system. She said the demonstration helped legislators to “put a face” on the difficulty of obtaining affordable education.