Monday, June 22, 2009

Letter to Editor about CHE Piece on California Higher Education

Dear Editor,

Your article, "California's 'Gold Standard' for Higher Education Falls Upon Hard Times," does a good job of documenting the startling decline of higher education attainment in California, a decline that may be unprecedented in modern American history. But the discussion of the ins and outs of the Master Plan puts too much weight on a side issue.

The core issue is that California's state government cut its share of higher education budgets 40% between 1990 and 2005 (UC figures, corrected for inflation and enrollment growth) as amply documented in Academic Senate reports, e.g. The current cuts will bring this reduction to at least 50%, perhaps closer to 60%. Since undergraduate instruction and related campus activities are far more dependent on state money than is generally realized, these astonishing cuts have redefined UC and CSU in one generation, and are directly responsible for reduced educational attainment.

The real questions for California and other states are these. Do you want to keep paying more to get less - say "only" 10% higher fees per year, with continuous reductions to operations? Do you want to replace all lost state money with fees, and go from $9000 next year at UC to more like $15,000? If you want to do the latter, do you care about the damage this will do to Black and Latino attainment, who are already being failed by continuous cost increases and reduced quality?

California doesn't need to destroy its once-great higher education system, but it needs to understand that the old combination of quality and access depended on strong public funding. Nothing has yet be invented to replace that.


Christopher Newfield
UC Santa Barbara

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