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The New California Public Higher Education System

It all began last month with news that the University of California’s Board of Regents voted to raise tuition by 32% next fall.  An article in the NY Times illustrated how hundreds of student protesters voiced concerns regarding the tuition increase.  Students commented on how the increase will affect the diversity on campus, especially since illegal immigrants do not qualify for financial aid.  Students also criticized how recent budget cuts have already impacted the quality of their education due to cut library hours, fewer teaching assistants and less time with other staff members due to furlough days.

However, a commentary (also in the NY Times) by Ian Ayres points out that the tuition increase in the California system “might be a good thing.”  Mr. Ayres outlines how there is a huge gap between the cost of private and public education.  He says that U.C. Berkeley offers more courses taught by Nobel laureates than Yale, but Yale charges $28,400 per year in tuition and fees and Berkeley is only $5,858.  However, another NY Times article points out that Berkeley may lose some of their “star” faculty members to other institutions, based on the “pervasive sense” among students and faculty that “deep budget cuts are pushing the university into decline”.

And now there are concerns that the California State University system is “shifting from being a de facto a non-competitive admissions university to a competitive one.”  An article on InsideHigherEd.com outlined the changes:

  • Applications are up 19% from this time last year.
  • Last year only 6 schools were “impacted” in admissions- meaning they needed to take competitive measures because they had so many applicants.  This year that number has doubled, up to 12 and it may continue to rise.
  • Last year only 6 campuses stopped accepting applications by November 30th.  This year the number is up to 14.

All of these factors are adding to the pressure cooker that is the California educational system.  Here are few other concerns that are stirring the pot:

  • Maintaining diversity:  In addition to concerns that a tuition hike will influence the diversity on California’s public higher education campuses, there is also concern that higher admission standards may decrease the number of students of color as well.  While applications for students of color are up in the Cal State system, James Blackburn, director of enrollment management, admits that he still does not know how changes in admissions requires will affect the make up of the campus population.
  • Options for low-income students:  The Cal State and UC systems have always been known for their affordability, but if students are not admitted, what are their other options?
  • Less counseling:  Understaffed guidance counselor offices are trying to keep up with the shifting admissions trends, but are having issues finding time to reach students who need to know this new information.
  • Pressure on the admissions side:  Due to state budget cuts and furlough days, admissions offices are understaffed too.  Add that to a sharp increase in the number of applications that have to be read and the number of rejected students they have to answer to.

Being a California native, I know how much students rely on the California higher education system to pursue their dreams of obtaining a college degree.  I doubt there were many students at my high school who did not apply to at least one Cal State or one UC.  I know things have changed a lot since I applied to colleges; students are learning to think more “outside of the box” and more are venturing out-of-state, but I also think California students need more guidance now than ever before.  Also, the public higher education system in California serves an ethnically and socio-economically diverse population and the changes being made could deeply influence the face of higher education in the state.   I don’t know that we will see the true affects these changes will have for years to come, but by then it may take even more money for the system to “recover” and return to where it is today.

Katherine Price

Educational Consultant

 

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