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California

Californians give state colleges high marks

November 12, 2009|Larry Gordon

Despite damaging budget cuts at the state's community colleges and public universities, Californians still have high esteem for the schools, according to a new survey. Yet most are not willing to pay higher taxes or student fees to protect the campuses from financial troubles, the poll found.

The survey by the nonprofit Public Policy Institute of California showed that solid majorities of state residents think California's public colleges and universities do a good or excellent job: 65% say that about community colleges, 62% about the University of California and 61% about the California State University system. That contrasts sharply with approval ratings of 28% for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and 18% for the state Legislature.

The survey showed the public to be well aware of recent staff furloughs and reductions in class offerings at public campuses, and 59% of respondents said the colleges and universities should be a high or very high priority for state funding during the budget crisis. However, only 41% said they were willing to pay higher taxes to make up for state budget cuts and only 29% were willing to increase student fees.

Mark Baldassare, president of the institute, said he does not consider that a contradiction, given the weak economy and concerns about their personal finances. "It's a really tough time to ask people for more money," he said in a telephone interview.

The report was released Wednesday night, a week before UC Regents were expected to approve higher student fees.

Baldassare said he was surprised by the extent to which poll respondents expressed worry about budget cuts to the historically well-regarded public colleges and universities.

"To see that level of concern spoke to the degree people value these institutions they see as very important for the state's future," he said, adding that legislators should pay attention.

Among the survey's other findings: 77% of parents of children age 18 or under say they are worried about affording college and 69% say most families do not save enough for college; 89% are concerned about rising fees; and 86% worry about reduced enrollments and course offerings.

The telephone survey of 2,502 adult California residents was conducted from Oct. 20 to Nov. 3 and is reported to have a 2% margin of sampling error. The full report is available online at: http://www.ppic.org /main/publication.asp?i=917.

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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