Urgent student input needed in budget-planning process

HIGHER EDUCATION: With Gov. Brown's proposed budget, at odds with the UC plan, students deserve a place at the table to resolve disputed issues

Our state’s governor and highest-tier public university system are on the verge of a stalemate over two central points of contention: nonresident enrollment increases and the extent to which the state is obligated to fund the UC system. What’s lost in this debate and its surrounding rhetoric, though, is an acknowledgement that these concerns perpetuate one another and that the losers are students.

On Jan. 9, Gov. Jerry Brown released his preliminary budget proposal, which would dole out his promised $119.5 million increase to the University of California, contingent upon freezing tuition and halting nonresident enrollment growth — $136.6 million shy of what the UC Office of the President demanded. Without the requested funding from the state, the university, under its long-term funding plan, may raise tuition and fees for California residents by as much as $3,372 over the next five years. The plan also calls for increasing enrollment of in-state students by at least 5,000 and nonresidents by 2,000 over the next five years.

The UC system is asking for more funding, in part, to grow student enrollment, but Brown is telling the university to instead focus on affordability and graduating students in a timely fashion to expand the system’s overall efficiency and quality. To solve this issue of bearing the costs of enrollment growth, the state could tie funding to increasing the ratio of resident to nonresident enrollment — a move that would reward the UC system for greater dedication to Californians.

We agree with a central premise of Brown’s budget: Out-of-state and international students should not be used as a financing tool. The UC system’s highest obligation is to Californian students — or, at least, it should be. But when the state finances less and less of our education, the UC system no longer has the same obligation to educate those within California’s borders.

Here’s where it slips out of control. State funding declines in times of economic hardship or unfavorable political climates, and that funding never comes back in full swing. By relying more on private and nonstate sources, the university is increasingly seen as an entity that doesn’t require additional public funding. Without those public funds, the UC system can only increase what’s within its power: nonresident enrollment and tuition.

There’s a solution within reach, however, and it comes back to Californians. If they demand a truly public and quality university system, they must demand smarter budgeting that prioritizes higher education.

There is an urgent need for student involvement at every level of the budget planning process. We’re not here to give financial advice, but we can tell you how number crunching impacts our lives.

Moreover, now that students are paying more to finance their own education, they should have a larger representation on the UC Board of Regents. With more student involvement, we hope the people behind budget planning and negotiations will better see what’s at stake for us.

Editorials represent the collective opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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