Universities, community colleges face nearly $270 million in cuts

SACRAMENTO -- California's state colleges and universities warned they may have to offer fewer courses and consider fee increases as a result of midyear spending cuts proposed Friday by Gov. Gray Davis.

Davis' plan to cut $10.2 billion from state spending over 18 months would remove $74 million from the University of California's current budget of almost $4 billion. The California State University system would see a $60 million cut from its almost $3 billion budget.

After hearing the news, Chancellor Charles B. Reed called a Dec. 16 special meeting of the CSU governing board to figure out how to meet its 2002-03 operating budget in light of the cuts.

"This year is a problem. Next year could be a catastrophe," Reed said in a written statement. "We do however expect to accommodate our student enrollment for the remainder of this year, and will make every effort to honor our commitment to students to provide classes and services."

The CSU had been anticipating the budget crunch and had cautioned CSU presidents to be prudent with spending, and encouraged them to maintain a reserve by instituting partial hiring freezes, excluding full-time faculty, and not entering into major contracts.

The trustees were expected to analyze the CSU's expected revenue and projected expenses to determine if possible fee increases would be needed.

UC President Richard C. Atkinson said the cuts put his system below the minimum set in an agreement with the governor's office.

"It is with great reluctance that we are considering even a modest student fee increase," he said. "But we must look to a package of solutions if we are to ensure that students continue to have access to the classes they need to graduate on time."

Davis' Education Secretary Kerry Mazzoni said the state aims to keep fees low, but "even a small fee increase would still keep California the most affordable state for higher education."

The cuts proposed for the state's community college system total $200 million over 18 months, and $135 million of that is from the system's current $6.2 billion budget.

For the Los Rios Community College system, with 75,000 students on three Sacramento-area campuses, that translates to cuts of approximately $8 million, said Chancellor Brice Harris.

"It means we won't be able to offer courses to meet student demand," he said. "At a time when the state is in a recession and people are flocking to community colleges, that certainly is a challenging situation."

Tom Nussbaum, chancellor of the California Community College system, said the cuts will translate into "increased class sizes, reduced offerings and deferring purchases of equipment" at the 103 campuses statewide.

"It's bad. It's not my worst nightmare. Coming midyear, that's very tough. But given a $21 billion shortfall, I could foresee it being a nightmare," Nussbaum said.

In previous recessions, the system has seen the loss of hundreds of thousands of students, he said.

"When we hit these down-cycles in the economy, we have floods of students come to our door, right at the time when the state cannot afford to fund us," Nussbaum said.

The colleges must accept anyone with a high school diploma, but cannot guarantee the student will be able to enroll in classes. After a time, those students get frustrated with not being able to enroll in the classes they need and quit, he said.

Among the cuts to the community colleges is $80 million that the state believes was overpaid for students who were taking classes at both high schools and community colleges.

Nussbaum said his office was investigating complaints in Orange County and Shasta County, but said he thought the Department of Finance's estimate was far too high.

If both the school districts and the college were being paid for time when students were taking community college courses, "I would agree that it's double-dipping," Nussbaum said. "But I don't know the basis for their figure."

The $80 million is a ballpark estimate of what was over-claimed by the schools and the colleges, said Betty Yee, chief deputy director of the state finance department.

An audit will show how often the state has "paid twice for the same student" and also how much of that total should be shared between the K-12 schools and the community colleges, she said.

Nussbaum said his office would cooperate with any audit.

But, he added, "It's a little unprecedented in that they choose the money be taken first, and then audit later."


On the Net:

Read the state budget at http://www.dof.ca.gov


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