Students entering the UC Berkeley campus via Sather Gate. Photo via Wikimedia.
Students entering the UC Berkeley campus via Sather Gate. Photo via Wikimedia.

In summary

California’s public universities will get an infusion of cash to increase enrollment, smooth students’ progress toward graduation and repair aging buildings under a state budget agreement reached today by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders.

California’s public universities will get an infusion of cash to increase enrollment, smooth students’ progress toward graduation and repair aging buildings under a state budget agreement reached Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders.

The agreement, which still must be approved by the full Legislature and signed by the governor to take effect, boosts annual funding for California State University by $197 million and the University of California by $97 million. It comes in the wake of months of fervent lobbying by students, faculty and administrators after Brown proposed a less generous higher education budget in January.

UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said the agreement, while still tentative, “will allow UC to put off a tuition increase for California students and provide much needed funds for deferred maintenance.”

The two university systems will also each receive more than $160 million in one-time money under the agreement, some of which is targeted for specific programs including fighting student hunger and providing legal services for undocumented students.

“This investment will enable the CSU to enroll more students from a wide variety of backgrounds, and prepare them to improve their communities and lead the industries that are driving California,” California State University Chancellor Tim White said in a statement. “This is vital to our state’s future.”

White had already taken a tuition increase for CSU off the table in April.

The budget projects that CSU will enroll more than 3,600 additional students in the coming year, while UC adds 2,000. It sets aside $75 million to fund an ongoing effort by CSU to boost the percentage of students who graduate in four years to 40 percent by 2025.

And it gives each university system $35 million for repairs to campuses, where overcrowded classrooms, outdated equipment and leaky buildings sometimes interfere with learning.

The compromise represents a sea change from a few months ago when Brown was insisting he would not agree to more than a 3 percent funding increase for UC and CSU, and both universities were considering tuition hikes to close the gap. Though California posted higher revenues than expected this year, Brown has kept a tight hold on state purse strings, wary of what he views as an inevitable recession.

“From a $27 billion deficit in 2011, the state now enjoys a healthy surplus and a solid Rainy Day Fund,” the governor tweeted Friday in announcing the $200 billion budget deal, which would keep the state running through the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Max Lubin, a UC Berkeley graduate student who heads up the student advocacy group RISE, credited a united front among students and university administrators with helping to sway lawmakers.

“It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s an accomplishment we’re very proud of,” he said. “I hope we can show students not just here but across the county that when we organize and make our voices heard, we can reverse this vicious cycle of tuition hikes and start restoring California and the nation’s investment in students.”

California’s community colleges will also see two major changes under the agreement: the establishment of a new, fully online college and a shift to funding campuses based not just on how many students they enroll. Both are high priorities for the governor and community colleges Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley that sparked fierce opposition among some faculty.

Critics argued that the online college, which is aimed at giving adult workers short-term credentials that will help them advance in their careers, duplicated work already being done on brick-and-mortar campuses and might not give students the support they needed to succeed.

The deal lawmakers negotiated will give $35 million to improve online courses at existing colleges, on top of the $120 million set aside for the new college. The online school will be required to develop programs that help students continue their education on a physical campus.

Oakley called the plan “a good compromise.”

“There’s a recognition that the community colleges need to serve more and different kinds of Californians, and that the economy and workforce continue to change,” he said. “We think this will be a great thing for California workers, and we can’t wait to get started.”

But Jonathan Lightman, executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges, said it was “extremely disappointing” that the agreement didn’t include stricter oversight to ensure the online college didn’t compete with existing campuses.

The faculty association “continues to believe that the online, hybrid and traditional college courses that are offered by our institutions, whether they be credit or non-credit, have greater merit than a separate fully online college that is not anchored in the community,” he said.

Oakley also acknowledged that debate over the controversial new funding formula would continue past the June 15 deadline for the Legislature to pass a budget.

In the past, community colleges received funding based solely on how many students they enrolled. The new formula replaces that with a combination of total enrollment, the number of low-income students on campus and how well colleges perform on a range of measures including awarding degrees and preparing students for transfer to four-year universities.

This story and other higher education coverage are supported by the College Futures Foundation.

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Felicia Mello covers the state's economic divide. Prior to this role, she was editor for CalMatters' College Journalism Network, a collaboration with student journalists across California to cover higher...