State elections mean little change for higher education, experts say

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In California, Tuesday’s midterm election gave Gov. Jerry Brown another four years in office and took away a Democratic supermajority in the state Senate, yet some policy experts say the political shifts will have little effect on higher education.

Both the governor’s race and the race for state superintendent of public instruction went to incumbents. The state Assembly, meanwhile, remained in the hands of the Democrats, although they may also lose their supermajority there with two key Assembly races undecided as of Wednesday evening.

For this election, little change was a good thing for the higher education system, according to W. Norton Grubb, campus professor emeritus at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education.

President of Berkeley College Republicans Claire Chiara, who formerly worked as a Daily Californian staff writer, agreed that the elections wouldn’t bring change but said this meant continued problems for the UC system.

“Neel Kashkari presented a clear vision for systemic changes to the UC system, while Jerry Brown may continue to uphold the status quo,” Chiara said.

Brown won a resounding victory, winning about 59 percent of the vote to secure a historic fourth term in office.

“The world looks pretty troubled out there,” Brown said in his victory speech. “The country is facing a lot of uncertainty. But here in California, where once they called us a failed state, we’re now showing the way.”

Tuition at the UC system increased in the early years of Brown’s tenure, but it has been frozen at 2011-12 levels for the last three years. Brown made a deal with the university in which he agreed to 4 or 5 percent increases in state funding each year in exchange for keeping tuition constant until 2016-17.

But the biggest effect on California higher education likely comes not from the state races but from the national races and the Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate.

“Republicans now control both branches of Congress, which is absolutely a step in the right direction toward fiscal responsibility,” Chiara said. “The federal government must minimize its role in providing student loans and encourage students and their families to seek private-sector financing.”

Republican control in the Senate means less federal student aid and less funding for research centers such as the National Institutes of Health, which provide much of the research funds to the university, according to Grubb.

The federal government provided more than $2 billion in funds for university research in 2012-13 — more research funds than were provided by all other sources combined, according to university data.

Grubb sees these funding cuts as damaging to the higher education system and sees the Republican takeover of the Senate as “the worst aspect of this election for higher education.”

In the race for state superintendent of public instruction, incumbent Tom Torlakson beat challenger Marshall Tuck by 4 percentage points. Torlakson was supported by teachers’ unions, while Tuck was backed by the California Charter Schools Association.

“Tonight is a win for the people who do more than talk about improving education — tonight is a win for the people who do something about it,” Torlakson said in his victory statement.

Although none of the propositions directly affected higher education, the University of California Student Association actively campaigned for Proposition 47, which reduces penalties for certain nonviolent crimes. Prop. 47 passed with about 59 percent of the vote.

Daniel Tutt is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @danielgtutt.