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2010 May 17 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Schwarzenegger Promises More Money for Higher Ed

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promised California’s cash-strapped colleges and universities that he will veto any state budget that does not include additional funding for higher education.

The Republican governor met with a dozen top administrators and student leaders from the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges systems.

The gathering marked the 50th anniversary of the state’s college master plan, which greatly expanded access to higher education and helped make the state a model for the nation.

Budget cuts in recent years have threatened to derail that plan.

During the past five years, as state funding dropped, student fees increased by 61 percent at UC, to $8,000 a year for California resident undergraduates, and 68 percent at CSU, to $4,900 a year.

Fees at the state’s 110 community colleges dropped during that period but shot up 30 percent this year.

The schools, which serve a combined 3.5 million students each year, also have been forced to reduce enrollment, limit course offerings and — in the case of UC and CSU — institute employee furloughs and pay cuts.

“We’re at a crossroads at the 50th anniversary,” community colleges chancellor Jack Scott said. “The master plan is not broken; we need simply to fulfill the master plan.”

Schwarzenegger has proposed a $224 million increase in general fund spending for higher education for the fiscal year that starts in July. He said he would reject any budget that does not include more money for higher education and the financial aid awards known as Cal Grants.

“If anyone tries to tinker around with that particular area of my budget, I will not sign the budget,” he said.

Alicia Trost, spokeswoman for state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, said such comments were premature until Schwarzenegger releases his revised budget.

“Of course we support increased funding for higher education, but governors usually wait until after the. . .revision to issue ultimatums,” Trost said.

In January, the governor proposed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing at least 10 percent of general fund spending would go to UC and CSU.

Since Schwarzenegger took office in 2004, higher education funding has never exceeded 8 percent of the general fund, and it reached a 27-year low of 7 percent in 2006, according to the state Department of Finance.

This year, funding to UC and CSU dropped to 7.5 percent of the general fund. Community college funding is covered under a separate section of the fund.

Comments: editor@ccweek.com

Also from ROBIN HINDERY, Associated Press Writer

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