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Higher education leaders anxious about cuts in proposed California budget

They worry that Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed California budget will mean fewer classes, fewer services and fewer students getting the higher education they need to succeed.

January 12, 2011|By Larry Gordon, Carla Rivera and Tony Barboza, Los Angeles Times

Gov. Jerry Brown's proposals to slash state spending on higher education has triggered anxiety across California's already budget-battered public colleges and universities about possible new waves of staff and faculty layoffs, reductions in class offerings and higher tuition bills.

Administrators said it was too soon to say definitively how they would respond if the Legislature approves the $1.4 billion in proposed state funding cuts for the University of California, California State University and the state's community college system. But they predicted that daily life at the schools would surely suffer in various ways, including more-crowded classes and less pristine campuses.

"It's not so much the quality of instruction but the quality of the overall educational experience for these students" that may be affected, said Steve Boilard, higher education director at the state Legislative Analyst's Office,

Among the most concrete predictions came from California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott, who said the cutbacks will mean, in effect, that about 350,000 students will not be able to enroll in any classes at those 112 schools.

"We just can't keep doing more with less," Scott said Tuesday. "This is really sad because we are going to turn away students we would love to educate."

The governor's plan also calls for community college fees to rise from $26 per credit unit to $36, which Scott noted would still be among the lowest in the nation.

At Los Angeles City College on Tuesday, psychology student Nela Laveni said higher fees would mean requesting additional hours at her part-time job at an insurance office to continue her schooling.

"That's the main reason people decide to come here, because it's so much cheaper," said Laveni, 18, who is in her first term at the college. "That might be too expensive for me."

Instructors at the college said they wondered which materials and course offerings would be cut next. Last year, for example, the school's business department ran out of money for the paper used for teaching and for exams. Now, instructors either buy it with their own money or ask students to bring their own, the teachers said.

Rob Sambrano, who has taught computer and business courses at the college for six years, said the budget cuts and fee increases could keep students from enrolling and improving their job skills during sour economic times.

"A lot of people that are unemployed and looking for work, they're turning to us to get some skills under their belt and return to the job market," he said. "And what are we doing? We're cutting back."

UC leaders already had decided to raise annual undergraduate tuition for the 2011-12 year by 8%, or $822, to about $11,124, not including campus fees or living costs. That is about triple what it was a decade ago, although financial aid will shield many students from the latest increase.

The university's regents are not likely to seek an additional tuition increase for the current school year or for the fall unless voters in June reject the governor's proposal to extend several tax measures, said Patrick J. Lenz, UC's systemwide vice president for budget. But if the tax plan collapses, he said, "options that may not be very palatable today become more realistic."

Lenz said it was probably too late in the UC admissions process for enrollment for this fall to be substantially reduced. However, the number of slots for midyear transfer students could be cut, and the freshmen numbers for 2012 might be affected too.

Rather than revive last year's required furlough days for most faculty and staff, the most likely scenario to cope with the $500-million proposed reduction in state funding for UC's 10 campuses would be layoffs, he said. And programs deemed not essential to the university's teaching and research missions "are going to be subject to a great deal of scrutiny and are at jeopardy of being closed."

At California State University, Chancellor Charles B. Reed said officials would consider reducing enrollment, eliminating classes, laying off staff, furloughing employees and increasing class sizes to address the proposed $500-million loss in state support.

Less likely, Reed said Tuesday, are further tuition increases at the 23-campus university. In November, Cal State trustees approved a 5% increase for winter and spring terms this year and an additional 10% boost for fall 2011. That will bring undergraduate tuition to $4,884, in addition to campus fees that average about $1,000.

Cal State had been ramping up enrollment by 30,000 students for this spring after two years of cuts. The governor's budget proposal means the system once again is likely to have to restrict enrollment for fall 2011, Reed said.

Overall, the cuts will lead to a lower quality of education for Cal State's 433,000 students, Reed predicted. "In the end, we won't be able to provide access to as many students, students will not get the kinds of services and classes and sections they deserve and that they are paying for," he said.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

carla.rivera@latimes.com

tony.barboza@latimes.com

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