EDITORIAL: Brown’s proposed budget: Is $300 really a big deal?

Lariat Editorial Board

California Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a spending plan for 2011-12 that includes profound cuts to higher education, as well as services for the poor, disabled and elderly. That translates to a lot of dough.

The state faces a $25.4 billion deficit, including an $8.2 billion deficit in the fiscal year ending in July. According to the Sacramento Bee, Brown’s plan includes asking voters to approve temporary taxes in a June special election. To expedite this, the state legislature would have to act by the end of March to get a measure on the ballot. Hence, Brown wants a budget deal in place by that deadline.

Let’s get past the political speak and break this down to how it will affect students attending public colleges. It would equate to $1.4 billion in cuts.

The Chronicle of Higher Education said it “could prompt a new year of protests that decry higher tuition, stagnant employee salaries, and the growing inability of Californians to afford college.” It also means the Cal State system may yet again be forced to cut undergraduate enrollment for the second time in two years.

And for those of us in the community college system, $400 million of cuts are proposed. Yet, the governor wants the system to be prepared to accept and serve more students, which has Jack Scott, the system’s chancellor, up in arms and on the defensive. He told the Chronicle he estimates the failure of the ballot measure would come down to actual cuts of double the estimated amount.

Now let’s break it down on a personal level for you, the student. Gov. Brown proposes that your tuition increase from $26 per credit hour to $36. A full-time student taking a 30-unit load per year now pays $780. At $36 per unit, it would increase to $1,080, which is $300.

That doesn’t sound so bad now does it? Look at it realistically. That is less than the price of a game console, or a shopping spree at the mall. Plus, it’s $300 towards your future, not your competitive gamer side or your fashionista-diva side.

In comparison to other states, California has the lowest tuition in the country, according to a report published in 2007 by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

For example, community college tuition for schools in the Phoenix area is $71 per unit, or $2,130 a year. Students at Truckee Community College in Nevada pay about the same – however, their parking is free.

The tuition and fees are even higher on the East Coast. At Monroe Community College in Rochester, N.Y., it costs $125 per unit, or $3,000 per year. That is more than double what we will be paying if the budget passes.

Furthermore, when we don’t hesitate to drop hundreds of dollars on books, why should we be complaining about a $10 increase in units? It’s all for the betterment of our education, in the big picture.

From an individual perspective, community college students who reside and attend school in California, especially those from privileged Orange County, the possible increase is viable. It makes sense.

However, back to that big picture, the impact of the cuts will impact all Californians. Hopefully, Jerry Brown’s proposal will begin to move the state’s financial crisis heading back towards the black and out of the deep cavern of red where it now resides.

We need stability. It’s our future this will influence the most. The majority demographic of a community college student, that is 20-something and still living at home, are here to either complete lower-division requirements to transfer to be able to further our educational goals, or we are here to learn a trade to be able to support ourselves and/or our families.

Let’s not fret over $300, but let’s not lose sight of how this budget plan will affect us in the long term.