Monday, July 22

Editorial: Although new budget provides flexibility, UC must prepare for economic downturns


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California’s newly minted $214.8-billion budget didn’t leave college students behind.

But the University of California isn’t off the hook quite yet.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed California’s largest budget to date June 27. Sweeping funding measures will freeze tuition hikes and expand the number of spots in the UC and California State University systems to lower the overall cost of higher education. Additional funding can now be used to increase the number of competitive Cal Grant scholarships offered and even includes allocations for student-parents with dependent children.

All of this is great news – the 2019 budgetary provisions are a promise of the state’s increased investment in higher education.

But celebrations aside, the UC shouldn’t slack off on its commitment toward accessible and affordable education. Despite the current budget increase from the state, the UC must ensure it doesn’t fall short on providing in-house financial support for students.

UC President Janet Napolitano said at a March education hearing that she was optimistic that a partnership with Newsom would help the universities provide financial aid to students.

And her optimism was not unwarranted. Although the state hasn’t released its enacted budget to the public yet, the latest revisions allocate more than $18 million toward higher education, as well as funding for an additional 15,000 students at UC and CSU schools.

With this budget, the state solidified its commitment to the UC – a move historically unseen under former Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration.

While Brown sat in the governor’s mansion, the UC saw its fiscal demise. State financial support for the UC drastically fell during the 2008 recession and the University was forced to find other ways to stay afloat through tuition hikes or enrolling out-of-state students.

Brown’s time in office made the danger of tying financial support to a fair-weather economy all too clear.

So when California finds itself in the next economic crisis, the University needs to have a backup plan for when state funding isn’t as abundant.

A backup plan that doesn’t use students’ tuitions as a bargaining chip, that is.

One thing is for certain – when the University scrambles to pay for its operations, students suffer the most. Dwindling admissions rates are one symptom of this epidemic; the UC can’t enroll more students if it cannot pay to educate them. Affordability is another.

The institutional aid offered by the UC isn’t enough to cover most students’ college educations, and on average, in-state students graduated with over $20,000 in debt in 2017. Even in the best of economic times, students often feel the worst of a system failing to provide for them.

That’s not to say campuses aren’t acknowledging this need. UCLA in particular is fundraising $1 billion in student scholarships as part of its Centennial Campaign. According to the Daily Cal, 2018 fundraising efforts by UC Berkeley brought in a $10 million pledge to support various scholarships offered throughout the campus.

But though the effort is valiant, there’s more that can be done. Affordability and accessibility to higher education remain constant issues, despite bills passed and politicians sworn in.

The UC saw a decade of economic turmoil – and what that did for tuition. But now the tables have turned, and the UC has an opportunity to better prepare for future shifts of the economic pendulum.

Until it does, students will continue to fall victim to political stalemates.

 

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