State budget: Trigger cuts hit community colleges
- December 14, 2011
By Nanette Asimov
Chronicle Staff Writer
Now that California's dreaded "trigger cuts" have been triggered, public colleges and universities - and students and teachers - are the clear losers in the midyear budget bloodbath.
California State University and the University of California will each lose $100 million, bringing to $750 million in cuts this year from each university's budget.
But the deepest impact will be at community colleges, where the cuts will cost $102 million, for a total loss this year of $502 million from the system's $5.9 billion budget.
"Colleges are at a breaking point now," said Chancellor Jack Scott of the community college system, predicting more crowded classrooms and layoffs of adjunct faculty, who teach on semester-to-semester contracts.
"Colleges will say to many of them, 'Sorry, we don't need you anymore,'" Scott said. "And I can't guarantee there won't be layoffs of permanent personnel."
At the same time, community colleges expect to make back about $110 million by charging students, most of whom are low-income, more to attend.
Tuition will rise to $46 a unit next summer ($1,380 a year for a full-time student taking 15 units), up from $36 a unit ($1,080 a year). Last year it cost $26 a unit, or $780 a year for a full load of classes. That's a 57 percent increase since last spring.
"This is hurting my wallet," said Joe Fitzgerald, a film student at City College of San Francisco and editor of the campus newspaper, The Guardsman.
He owes the school $460. While that's less than the price of an iPad, it's enough to bar him from registering for next semester until he finds the cash. And it's not that he doesn't work. Fitzgerald teaches part-time at the city's High School of the Arts.
He would have graduated already, except that he hasn't been able to get into the one math class he still needs. So he's crossing his fingers that there will be room for him next semester.
There's no guarantee. City College will cut 350 courses this spring because of the trigger cuts - so called because they were triggered when the state didn't bring in enough tax revenue.
That translates to a loss of $13.5 million at City College, which will have to turn away about 6,000 students and will offer only a limited summer program.
"We just got hammered," said Peter Goldstein, vice chancellor for finance.
At CSU, higher tuition and fees this year and next will generate $300 million toward its $750 million overall cut. Beyond that, the university will dip into reserves and delay nonessential expenditures, spokeswoman Claudia Keith said.
At Cal State East Bay in Hayward, the campus set aside $1.5 million, but the trigger cuts will actually mean a loss of $3.7 million.
"Other one-time savings have been identified to help make up the difference," said Leroy Morishita, the campus' interim president.
On far better footing is UC, which is charging students 17 percent more in tuition and fees than it did a year ago. This year, the regents are planning no midyear tuition increase. Nor is President Mark Yudof planning to cancel $140 million in merit raises for faculty, managers and supervisors or ask campuses to take additional austerity measures.
Instead, UC will offset the $100 million cut with money it over-contributed for health care, a pool of excess cash that happens to be just above $100 million, UC spokesman Steve Montiel said.
"It's a temporary solution," Montiel said, adding that UC is in talks with the state Department of Finance to try to work out a multiyear agreement in which the state would stop cutting the universities' budgets every year in exchange for a steady, predictable schedule of tuition increases.
Such "compacts" have been tried before, but have blown up in the face of persistent budget shortfalls.