Cuts to Higher Education Shortchange California’s Future

CSU HaywardWhen I went to Cal State Hayward in the late 90’s, I couldn’t understand why anyone went anywhere else. Small classes, great teachers, and a student body who were passionate and excited to be there. We all worked, many had kids, most were the first in the family to go to college. We were tired, bedraggled, and usually late to class but we were in love with this new life of learning.

I worked as a tutor in the afternoons and as a waitress on the weekends. I paid each quarter as it came, maybe $400 dollars tuition and $200 more on books? I was able to pay my way through college, five years and a double-major, on two part-time jobs and a Cal-Grant. And after graduation I had the freedom to do exactly the work I wanted without the crushing burden of massive student loans.

Those were the days. This week, the CSU system announced its second tuition increase in one year. A year’s tuition at a state college now costs about $6400, clearly out of reach for so many families.

In this era of deep and destructive cuts, there is no shortage of heartbreak. Welfare benefits for the poorest families in our state cut to pre-1987 levels. A 50 percent increase in homeless kids in the Sacramento school system. Each of these says something terrible about the state of our safety net and the levels of suffering we seem willing to tolerate.

And to me, what’s happening at the CSU is about more than just the kids who can’t get in due to budget cuts or will have to drop out because they can’t afford the fees. Its about whether we live in a society where kids from working class families can have any hope of finding greater opportunities than their parents had. Without an accessible state school system creating a bridge to the middle class, California will increasingly be a land of the haves and have nots.

How is it that in the great state of California, we cannot provide for the most basic needs of our children? How is it that we cannot reward kids who have done everything right, overcome tremendous hardship, and beat the odds with a decent and affordable education?

Each year, the California Chamber of Commerce has a list of bills they call “job killers.” Its hard to understand how an organization that backs the free trade agreements that have sent tens of thousands of jobs overseas has much credibility as to what policies kill jobs but its a catchy title for sure.

But these days, looking around at the California that my little boys will grow up in, what I see are “dream killers.” Politicians who will cut off a lifeline to needy families, but won’t even allow Californians to vote on tax extensions. They will fight to preserve corporate tax breaks, even while eliminating college opportunities for tens of thousands of students.

caitlin vegaRepublican leader Connie Conway explained at a press conference that Republican lawmakers care about the safety net too, but “We just don’t want it turning into a hammock with cute little drinks with umbrellas.” Um, families of three on Cal-Works are now getting just $460 a month. That’s seriously not enough to pay for food, forget drinks or umbrellas.

We cannot allow them to kill the California we believe in. The dream of every family, the reason every immigrant comes to this nation, the goal that parents scrimp and save and sacrifice for is for the next generation to have it a little better. It is up to us to make that dream a reality.

Caitlin Vega
California Labor Federation


  1. Sharon toji says

    You want obscene in “education?” the football coach at ucsd makes more than the college president you mentioned. The instructors, not nearly as much. But of course it all pales in compariso to the big business CEOs who are paid huge amounts even when they fail.

    • in_awe says

      Well, the difference is the pay for private CEOs doesn’t come out of the taxpayer’s pocket whereas the college president and the college coach is paid with taxpayer funds taken by force. You haven’t checked into how many professors in the UC system make $250,000 or $350,000 or $650,000. Some in the med schools receive over $1MM a year in total compensation. That is obscene.

      A recent study shows the UC and Cal State systems have more administrators than instructors. An article in the paper last week said that about 30% of tuition and fees paid go to fund financial aid to other students. So Mom & Dad middle class taxpayers who earn too much to get financial and and are too poor to afford their kid’s college educations must borrow the money and 30% of it goes to foot the bill for someone else’s kid AND they pay taxes to support the schools on top of that. Sweet.

  2. in_awe says

    Try looking at how the employees at these places of public education are being paid. The amounts being spent on instructors is obscene – especially when report after report for the Cal State system shows a huge majority (80-90%) of students need remedial education in all areas to get them to a college entry level. Maybe these kids should be sent to community colleges first where they can acquire the core knowledge for a college experience to be truly useful.

    Alternatively, we should re-implement vocational training classes in high schools for kids who will need a way to earn a living and are unlikely to succeed in college or have little or no interest in attending college. Not every kid needs to go to college as the inevitable follow-on to high school.

    How have dollars in the higher education system in CA been prioritized? Last week just as fees hikes were being announced a San Diego State college executive was hired at a $100,000 premium over the pay of his immediate predecessor. It is insane to think that the inflation in the cost of a higher education can outpace general inflation by huge margins for decades and that there are no places to cut-back institutional costs. Will some employees quit and go elsewhere? Sure. So what? The citizens of CA must get serious about ending the attitude that everything the state touches must be of the highest caliber across the board. We need to accept that good enough is good enough, or the fiscal crisis here will spiral completely out of control.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *