(June 5 - By Lillian Taiz, Special to The Bee)
Timing is everything.
Student debt is hitting an all-time high, to the tune of some $1.2 trillion nationwide.
Hundreds of thousands of students are clamoring to get into the California State University system, and about 30,000 are denied each year. By 2025, the state is facing an impending shortage of nearly a million college-educated workers.
Yet there is uncertainty looming about whether the system that was created to provide quality public higher education throughout California will receive the funding it so desperately needs not just to survive, but to thrive.
The state Assembly and Senate last week approved allocating $100 million and $95 million more, respectively, for the CSU system in addition to the $142.2 million included in Gov. Jerry Brown's 2014-15 budget. Lawmakers met in conference committee this week to arrive at agreement about the funding allocation. Legislative leaders will be negotiating with Brown ahead of the June 15 budget deadline.
The funding doesn't come without strings, however, and rightly so. Both funding bumps would come with a moratorium on controversial "student success fees" in place at more than half the CSU campuses statewide. The fees serve as a back-door method of driving up revenue for the CSU campuses during a tuition freeze. A quick look at the numbers associated with student debt at various CSU campuses illustrate that the fees will likely increase the amount of money students owe upon graduation.
Of the 2012 graduates, whether they started at CSU as freshmen or were transfer students, 48 percent of them left CSU with debt averaging $16,657.
At San Jose State, the number of students graduating with student debt in 2012 hovered around 40 percent, with an average debt load of $16,519. That campus, along with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, now has the highest "student success fees" systemwide. Although the executive order implementing the fees at Cal Poly wasn't enacted until the 2012-13 school year, it isn't unreasonable to assume that debt incurred by students in coming years will grow if the fees continue to remain in place.
Funding CSU on the backs of the students is unfair and shortsighted at best, especially as the state is emerging from a recession and has the financial means to add critical funding to public higher education.
Although a recent story in the Los Angeles Times indicates that CSU is making use of these fees, in part, to hire an estimated 700 new faculty for the 2014-15 year, this hiring only serves to replace those typically lost annually to retirement and attrition. More time needs to be spent on looking at what will be lost if funding for CSU continues to be kept at a bargain-basement level.
Without general fund support, classes will remain overcrowded, faculty will continue to be unable to spend as much time with students as they need and graduation rates will fall short of what is needed to keep the economy of California afloat.
Now is the time for Gov. Brown to heed the voices of lawmakers and Californians and reinvest in CSU. Reinvest in the students and their future, and in the faculty and staff who every day teach, train and inspire the next generation of this state's engineers, police officers, nurses, scientists and educators.
Timing is everything. And the time is now.
Lillian Taiz, a professor of history at California State University, Los Angeles, is president of the California Faculty Association.