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2010 September 20 - 12:00 am

Calif. Colleges Struggling With Long Budget Delay

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — As California enters its third month without a budget, state higher education leaders said the delay is creating financial problems and uncertainty for public colleges and universities.

The heads of the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges said the three systems have not been receiving expected payments from Sacramento and aren’t sure how much they’ll get for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature have not reached agreement on how to close a $19 billion budget shortfall. The impasse has led to delayed payments to school districts and counties, furloughs of state employees and the prospect of the state issuing IOUs.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott said the 112-campus system did not receive a $116 million payment in July or a $277 million payment in August. Campuses are dipping into savings or borrowing money to pay employee salaries and other expenses, and further delays could lead some colleges to miss payroll, he said.

Most classes are more than 90 percent full, and there are “huge wait lists” of students trying to get into courses at many campuses, Scott added.

“It’s a very difficult situation that community colleges in California are in,” he said. “I consider it a great tragedy when we have thousands of students coming to our campuses who we don’t have classes for.”

The 23-campus California State University system is paying expenses out of its student fee revenue because it has not received expected payments from the state, said Chancellor Charles Reed.

“We’re operating with a blindfold in terms of how many students we can enroll,” Reed said.

Over the past two years, California’s public colleges and universities have increased student fees, furloughed employees, reduced course offerings and cut enrollment in response to deep cuts in state funding.

The three system leaders said they are hopeful the new state budget will include the increased higher education funding proposed by the governor, but warn they may need to turn away more students and increase fees if they receive less money that expected.

“We’re really under pressure to reduce the number of students we’re able to serve, which is antithetical to our access mission,” UC President Mark Yudof said.

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