California's promise of an affordable higher education for its residents is being jeopardized by state budget cuts, the leaders of the state's college and university systems warned.
The cuts threaten to violate a half-century-old document known as the Master Plan for Higher Education that has made California's higher education system a model for the world.
In a rare joint appearance, the heads of the University of California, California State University and community college systems on Monday told lawmakers the education promise was in doubt because they don't have the money they need.
"You better increase the size of the pie because that's what the issue is all about," Jack Scott, chancellor of the state's 110 community colleges, told a joint legislative committee examining the state's master plan.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature have cut spending at UC and CSU by 20 percent to help balance the state's budget amid the steep economic downturn. Community colleges received about 8 percent less funding in 2009-2010 fiscal year.
To deal with the cuts, the UC system, which has about 220,000 students, has raised student fees 15 percent since January, reduced freshman enrollment by 6 percent and forced most of its 180,000 employees to take furloughs and pay cuts up to 10 percent.
The university intends to raise fees by another 15 percent, a move that has triggered student protests at several campuses.
CSU, the nation's largest four-year university system with 450,000 students, plans to cut enrollment by 40,000 over the next two years. Nearly all 47,000 employees have agreed to take furloughs two days a month, and fees for in-state undergraduates increased by $1,000 this year.
Meanwhile, the community college system, which last year served 2.89 million students, raised fees from $20 to $26 per credit and reduced the number of classes.
"I believe we can all agree our current system is in crisis, and we can all engage together to rescue it before it's too late," said Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City.
All three education leaders said the challenge involves stabilizing funding from the state rather than making sweeping changes to the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, which serves as a model for access, affordability and academic excellence.
"The Master Plan is not broken," said CSU Chancellor Charles Reed. "The future of California is tied to education. More people need an education today than they did when the Master Plan was first envisioned."
Scott noted that California's colleges and universities accounted for 17 percent of state spending in 1965 compared to slightly more than 10 percent today.
Each system has asked the governor and lawmakers to increase their budgets next fiscal year to make up for the recent cuts. However, the state is already facing a nearly $21 billion gap in its fiscal 2010-2011 budget during the next year and a half.
UC President Mark Yudof acknowledged it would be tough to get the additional $913 million that his 10-campus system has requested.
"People say how can you be confident about that?" Yudof told reporters after the hearing. "Well, I'm not all that confident, but I feel if the president of the University of California doesn't in good faith articulate what we need then who is? That's my job."