Poll: California should guarantee minimum funding level for UC, CSU

Since the recession, a yearly drama has played out in the halls of California’s Capitol as representatives of the state’s public universities beg lawmakers for more money to cope with rising demand. Now a new poll suggests a majority of Californians agree with an argument long made by students, faculty and administrators: The University of California and California State University need a dedicated funding source free from the political jockeying of annual budget debates.

Sixty-three percent of adult Californians, including majorities of both Democrats and Republicans, say the state should establish a minimum spending level for the two systems, according to the Public Policy Institute of California survey on attitudes about higher education released Wednesday.

The state’s K-12 schools and community colleges already enjoy such a guarantee, thanks to Proposition 98, which passed in 1988. The stability has helped the community colleges plan and budget for major projects, such as a new online community college.

“I think there’s a bipartisan view that higher education is important to California’s future and that it’s a priority that deserves recognition in the state budgeting process,” said PPIC president Mark Baldassare, who directed the poll.

An overwhelming 80 percent of adults surveyed supported the state providing two free years of community college to California students, one of Governor-elect Gavin Newsom’s key higher education proposals.

The survey could provide Newsom with political ammunition as he seeks to deliver on promises to invest more heavily in higher education. University administrators, emboldened by the state’s rosy economy, are already preparing their wish lists: Cal State plans to increase enrollment by five percent for the 2019-2020 school year, and will ask the state for an additional $456 million in support. The request comes after the university turned away 32,000 qualified applicants this year, saying it didn’t have enough space at the campuses where they had applied.

UC wants the state to provide it with $278 million more than it did this year, according to a proposed budget under discussion at this week’s Board of Regents meeting.

The poll also reflected a growing concern among Californians about college affordability, with six in 10 respondents saying affordability was a “big problem” and that there is not enough government funding available for grants and scholarships. Survey respondents were most likely to say tuition and fees posed the biggest financial burden for students. But many also named housing and living expenses, with interviewees in the expensive San Francisco Bay Area citing that as the largest cost.

The survey was conducted by cell phone and landline using a random sample of about 1,700 adult Californians. The College Futures Foundation, which also supports CALmatters’ higher education coverage, funded the survey but did not dictate the questions asked.

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