• April 16, 2014

California Governor's Budget Offers Good News to Colleges

Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed California budget for 2013-14 offers good news for higher education in the form of increases in state support, but it also lays out expectations that state colleges keep tuition flat and increase their efficiency in producing graduates.

Mr. Brown, a Democrat, emphasized the importance of education as he unveiled his budget on Thursday. In addition to proposing more money, he called for "new conditions" on the institutions receiving it. His budget proposes $2.7-billion in additional support for elementary and secondary education, accompanied by an increase in local control of how that money is spent. A proposed increase in support for the University of California system (up about 4 percent) and the California State University system (up about 6 percent) would bring an additional $125-million to each. The California Community Colleges would receive an additional $197-million, an increase of about 5 percent.

The three higher-education systems had hoped for more, in part to avoid possible tuition increases, but Mr. Brown said that "the gap between what we're going to give them and what they say they're going to need" would have to be made up through efficiencies.

A budget summary issued by the governor's office says that Mr. Brown expects state institutions to "maintain current tuition and fee levels" over the next four years; to increase access to courses online, especially required "bottleneck" courses; and to limit the number of course units students are allowed to take at in-state tuition rates to 150 percent of the number needed to earn a degree, in order to "encourage students to identify an educational goal and reach it in a timely and efficient way."

In a statement, the California Community Colleges chancellor, Brice W. Harris, called Mr. Brown's budget "a good start toward financial recovery for our system."

The Cal State system's chancellor, Timothy P. White, who had asked the state for a $372-million increase for 2013, said in a written statement that Mr. Brown's proposal "heads us in the right direction." Mr. White characterized Cal State administrators as "cautiously optimistic that the CSU's budget will begin to turn around."

Mere months after California voters approved Proposition 30, a ballot measure pushed by Mr. Brown to head off millions of dollars in state higher-education cuts with revenue from tax increases, the outlook for the state budget is generally positive. Mr. Brown went so far as to predict a budget surplus by the end of 2013.

While there is a "much more positive outlook" for the 2014 fiscal year and beyond, according to a state legislative analyst, Mac Taylor, he cautioned reporters in November that state spending would remain "pretty constrained" in the near term. A state-budget overview released by the California Legislative Analyst's Office projected that state spending on higher education would remain flat over the next five years.

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