Published in the Daily Breeze
Gov. Jerry Brown’s May revise of the state budget confirms California’s grim economic realities. Despite improved revenues and cuts already in place – including $500 million to the California State University system – the state must still reduce its budget by nearly $10 billion, which means another round of dramatic cuts will be made to state-funded institutions and programs.
If temporary tax extensions are not approved by voters or the Legislature, the CSU system will face $500 million in additional cuts, for a total of $1 billion. On paper, this cut may advance the short-term mission of reducing California’s budget deficit. However, such austere cuts to the CSU system will cost the state and the South Bay region far more than it will save in the near term and puts our long-term economic strength and global competitiveness at risk.
According to a recent study, for every dollar California invests in the CSU system, $5.43 in economic activity is generated for the state. Taking into account the enhanced earnings by CSU graduates, that return grows to an astonishing $23 per dollar invested. In the South Bay, CSU Dominguez Hills sustains 3,000 jobs and generates $328 million annually for the region’s economy. Our 80,000 alumni, 65percent of whom remain within 25 miles of the campus, earn an additional $1 billion directly attributable to their degrees.
Where else can you find such a return on investment? The dramatic cuts to higher education are irrational.
The proposition inherent in the state budget plan – that the CSU system should accept 1990s funding levels to serve a student population larger by 70,000 – is also unreasonable if we expect to preserve access, affordability and academic quality. With more than $600 million in state cuts since 2008, enrollment has been curtailed by tens of thousands, tuition fees have increased dramatically, and faculty/staff furloughs and other cost reductions have negatively impacted classroom teaching.
Despite implementing aggressive strategies to operate more efficiently, the proposed budget will force CSU Dominguez Hills and public universities throughout California into triage mode.
If the governor’s proposal for tax extensions is rejected, the CSU system will be forced to institute more radical measures: a 32 percent tuition fee increase, on top of a 10 percent increase already approved, and reductions to enrollment by 20,000 students. CSU Dominguez Hills will see 36 percent, or $24 million, in budget cuts. The university cannot address a reduction of this magnitude in one year with simple efficiencies alone.
When we consider the necessary conditions that ensure a prosperous future for California, the consequences of such cuts are even more distressing.
California’s decades of economic success were a direct result of our investment in a world-class system of public higher education. Our universities provide students with the knowledge and job skills they need to meet the demands of today’s industries. However, the Public Policy Institute of California predicts the state will have a shortage of 1 million college-educated workers by 2025 if current trends persist.
What will this mean for the future of the South Bay region and its industries?
Right now, CSU Dominguez Hills graduates thousands of students annually, helping to address work force needs of industries such as aerospace, sciences, engineering, health care and education. Our strategic plan focuses on increasing the number of students we enroll and graduate to help transform the South Bay into an even more highly educated community.
These are not things we can accomplish or sustain on a shoestring budget. Nor will we be able, without consistent state support, to meet the region’s challenges with only those students who can afford college. California needs all hands on deck, from every walk of life. Our universities should be overflowing with students who represent the diversity of our population. We should be educating and preparing the nation’s new majority for critical professional, entrepreneurial and leadership roles in their communities.
Instead of expenditures to be reduced, the CSU system’s 23 campuses should be viewed as the solution to our economic crisis.
Students we educate today will earn more money over their careers, return more to the state in taxes and be more civically engaged. As we place the future in their hands, we must be able to say with confidence that we have done everything possible to equip them for future challenges and contributions.
Even in an era of limits for state resources, underfunding of public higher education undermines our best proven strategy for a prosperous economy and society, today and in the future.
Mildred Garcia is president of California State University, Dominguez Hills in Carson.