As part of the proposed budget for the state of California, Gov. Jerry Brown wants to increase funding for the state’s community colleges by $490 million. This increase would be a big boost to what is the world’s largest post-secondary education system in the world, yet it is only the first step in making up for the mistakes of the past.
During the recession of the past decade and the governorship of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California Community College system has seen massive cuts. This current additional funding proposed by Brown cannot even begin to address the lost fundings. Between 2007 and 2012, the community colleges have collectively seen state funding reduced by $1.5 billion.
Funding may finally be rising for colleges but the damage has already been done. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, in 2013, student enrollment rates dropped to a 20-year low.
It’s not hard to see that the cuts in funding are affecting our accessibility of higher education. Community college budgets were getting slashed whereas course offerings fell by 21 percent as well as the staff being reduced.
The PPIC estimated that if colleges were able to maintain enrollment, an additional 600,000 students would be enrolled in higher education. Enrollment for first-time students (recent high school seniors) decreased by 5 percent even with the number of high school graduates increasing.
This has the potential to affect the future of the state in a profound way. The non-partisan project California Competes estimates that the state needs to produce 5.5million college graduates by the year 2025 in order to make the state the economic powerhouse it has been in the past. Current projections show that the state is off by more than 2.3 million students.
By 2025, the PPIC estimates that 41 percent of jobs will require a bachelor’s degree.
This means every person, whether in college, high school or elementary school will need to consider getting a degree. However, in order to work towards a degree, the state will need to help make colleges accessible.
The broad sweeping effect of budget cuts has even affected at public universities, which have decreased their enrollment as well. The California State University system went from over 437,008 students enrolled in 2008 to 426,534 in 2011.
This has a secondary effect for those in community colleges because they have difficulty finding spots in public, cost-effective universities. According to CSU Long Beach, they received nearly 60,000 transfer applications per fall, while only admitting about 3,000 students.
The public universities will never be able to handle all the students that are looking to complete degrees. The state needs to recognize the current position of California’s higher-education students now, before things get worse.
As Californians, we are a state that spends more money on corrections than on higher education. We have seen tuition for students nearly triple in the last decade. We have seen the amounts of student loans rise by over 35 percent since 2005. The fate of California will one day be in the hands of the students that are a part of its colleges. It is time that we make their hard work and sacrifice a little easier.
Brown has attempted to make a good first step towards addressing this issue and we urge the State Legislature to give the community colleges its funding back. We hope that Brown does not stop with his current proposal but pushes forward with more funding for public colleges. It is in all Californians’ best interest to create the world’s best post-secondary education system, not just the biggest.