Governor Jerry Brown was sworn in for his fourth and final term and presented his annual state of state address on Monday, covering a variety of topics including the importance of continued support for California higher education.
Brown committed to improve financial aid to public universities in order to prevent the students of California from becoming “default financiers” of the university system. Brown also said the state must make “massive changes in education” in California and devoted several minutes to speaking on reforming California K-12 funding apparatus and claimed the state had increased its support for K-12 education, promising $65.7 billion in funding next year.
According to California State Senator for Santa Barbara, Hannah-Beth Jackson, while recent state investment in higher education has been low, the state is aware this lack of financial support puts a burden on university students.
“The state has not been putting money into our education system at the same level that it used to, and as a result we are making some difficult decisions that I don’t think our young people should have to be making,” Jackson said. “Coming out of school with this enormous debt is just not the promise of California.”
Jackson said legislation is currently being worked on to address this issue, including problems posed by the recently approved plan to increase UC tuition by five percent annually for five years. This legislation includes SB-15, which if passed would significantly increase the Cal Grant program by increasing both the number and size in dollar amount of grants given to UC students.
According to Jackson, the state is willing to focus on taking the financial burden of the university system away from students, rather than allow increased tuition to place further economic pressure on university students.
“We have an obligation to your generation and to students,” Jackson said. “It is imperative that we not continue increasing the cost of that education, or at least increasing the cost and requiring that the students pay it. I think [Brown] did point out that we need to properly fund the promises we made to the to the next generation. One of those is to provide them with a top quality education and not put the financial burden on their backs.”
According to A.S. External Vice President for Statewide Affairs Melvin Singh, the proposed legislation to solve the state funding issue is seriously flawed.
“SB-15 from Senators Block and De Leon aims to potentially buy out tuition, but it comes at the cost of destroying the Middle Class Scholarship Act.” Singh said. “Senator Ricardo Lara proposed to take away the autonomy of the UC and place it in the control of the state, which is not an ideal plan at all because it sidesteps the issue of funding.”
According to Singh, the issues related to funding the UC still require a lot more attention than they are receiving, and it is likely students will have to wait to see real improvement.
“Overall, nothing currently in the state legislature in regards to higher education is significant,” said Singh, “or in the step of the right direction.”
According to Assemblyman for Santa Barbara Das Williams, improving state funding for higher education will be a long process, and will require further convincing of Brown and other leaders in the state government that schools need better financial support from the state.
“I do not expect him to increase funding to the UC in the first draft of the budget,” Williams said. “But my hope is that we can convince the governor that enough of the indexes that he wants to improve will be improved by increased funding, and thereby convince him to adequately fund the UC system.”
Guthy said she thought the governor’s statements meant that he will take steps to ensure the tuition increase plan does not need to go into effect with the 2015-16 budget.
“The Governor’s statement demonstrates a recognition of the long-standing trend of continual state disinvestment from higher education,” Guthy said. “His words are also a promise that we will not see this proposed tuition increase.”
According to Guthy, the statement made by Brown is part of an old unfulfilled promise made to California students in the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education, in which the state of California made a commitment to provide access to affordable, tuition-free education for California students that are in-state residents.
Guthy also said it will take effort on the part of students to ensure that the state does more to support universities.
“Throughout the course of this year’s state budget process, we, the students, must keep Governor Brown and the state of California accountable to their promises,” Guthy said. “To ensure we truly are not the ‘default financiers’ of our education.”
However, Singh said Brown failed to directly address the recent proposed tuition increase, and worries that these indirect words might represent more muddled and unhelpful action on behalf of the state and the governor.
“Jerry Brown’s speech was in no way reassuring to me that he will do what is necessary to alleviate the issues students and families face with higher education,” Singh said. “He did not even make any remarks about the tuition increase plan, which is contingent on state funding. As far as leadership goes, that shows me a lack of accountability to the people, including myself, who had just elected him.”
According to Singh, the governor has disregarded the financial needs of the UC system before.
“At the last Regents meeting, everyone at the table agreed that the UC system needs to be a higher priority and needs funding, however, Jerry Brown was the only one there to say ‘The money is already there.’” Singh said.
A version of this story appears on page 3 of the Thursday, January 8, 2015 issue of the Daily Nexus.