When more than 5,000 of California’s higher education students rallied at the state capitol on March 5 against budget cuts to the state’s community college and university systems, a presence from Cal Poly Pomona fell under the radar or was altogether absent – save for ASI Secretary of External Affairs Phil Sales.
While Sales assumed a “peacekeeper” role to help control the crowd, he was still a concerned student who traveled to Sacramento at a fever-pitch time when a cumulative of $2.65 billion – built up over the past four years – have been cut from higher education funding.
With such deep cuts have come increases in the cost of tuition, decreases in course offerings, curriculum downsizes and a slew of other resulting factors that ultimately affect the access and quality of education students receive.
“Affordability hits home with a lot of people,” said Sales, a lean economics student who speaks with a tenor voice. “It’s too expensive for a lot of people to go to college and they take out excessively large loans, and that’s unfair given the past where it was so much cheaper just a few years ago.”
Figures cited in an Associated Press article published shortly after the Sacramento demonstration indicate that tuition has effectively doubled for every higher education institution in California within the past five years.
Tuition figures for the University of California and California State University, the AP reported, have risen to $13,000 and $6,400 – respectively – since 2007. Fees for community college have risen from $20 per unit in 2007 to $46 per unit.
Although individual students may have rallied for their own personal causes and ideas about California higher education’s future, the collective goal was to communicate to California lawmakers that students would not tolerate further cuts to high education.
“I’ve been to rallies before,” said Sales, “but just seeing this many students show up really shows me that we may not all agree what the problems are, but we all agree that there is a problem and that’s the first step to fixing it.”
The way Sales sees it, the problem with higher education funding needs to be zoomed out and viewed at its source. That is, students, lawmakers and voters should reconsider California’s revenue when talking about funding for higher education.
“Even with increased tuition, our revenue has still been decreasing since 2007 and as a result, so is the quality of and access to our education,” said Sales. “Until revenue is addressed, the problem isn’t getting any better.”
For Sales, the answer to that problem is simple.
“The easier answer – the much more palatable answer for everyone – is to find a new source of revenue,” he said, recognizing that it would take an incredible argument to convince lawmakers to redirect police, fire, hospital, infrastructure and other such funds toward higher education.
“Whatever funding we do find, it needs to be mandated to go toward higher education,” said Sales.
Ironically, the challenge facing that answer arises from its own essence: Potential sources of new revenue would likely end up being tossed back and forth between democrats and republicans like a fiscal hot potato.
Some solutions on the Assembly’s table are two pieces of legislation drafted by Speaker of the Assembly John Perez (D): AB 1500 and AB1501.
AB1500, “The Corporation Tax Law,” would increase taxes on interstate and international corporations conducting business in or through California. The revenue generated from those taxes would be deposited in a “Middle Class Scholarship Fund” whose goal is to increase the affordability of higher education in California.
Likewise, AB1501 would establish a “Middle Class Scholarship Program” that would grant California residents whose household income does not exceed $150,000 eligibility for special scholarships and financial aid.
Such financial assistance to eligible students would make up for “at least two-thirds” of the amount the student would pay in system-wide fees for that particular academic year.
Another option — and a bill for which Sales has drafted himself — is an oil severance tax that would put a levy on every barrel of oil that comes out of the ground within California’s borders.
Perhaps it was political rhetoric, but some state legislators acknowledged the heart of the higher education dilemma – which ultimately resides not in California’s revenue, but the cooperation of legislators.
“If we do what we have to do on this side [and] if we get some modest economic growth, next year is the time we begin reinvesting [in higher education],” said Darrel Steinberg (D), President Pro Tempore of the California State Senate. “That doesn’t mean we’ll be able to pour billions back into the areas that have already been cut, but in a very decisive way we need to take the very first opportunity we have to begin reinvesting in higher education.”
For more information, visit csustudents.org