Schwarzenegger meeting focuses on higher ed cuts |

Schwarzenegger meeting focuses on higher ed cuts

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger met Wednesday with leaders of California’s colleges and universities to discuss budget cuts that have left higher education in critical condition.

The meeting with representatives from the University of California, California State University and community college systems took place the day before a planned nationwide protest to call attention to declining funding for public education.

Over the past five years, state budget cuts have caused student fees to rise by 61 percent at UC, $8,000 per year for resident undergraduates, and 68 percent at CSU, to $4,900 per 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.

“The purpose of the meeting is to talk about how we can all work together to provide as much support and resources to higher education as possible under the current budget deficit” of $20 billion, Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said Wednesday.

Despite the fiscal crisis, Schwarzenegger in January pledged to preserve higher education funding at least at its current level.

He also proposed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing that at least 10 percent of general fund spending would go toward UC and CSU. No more than 7 percent would go to state prisons.

Since Schwarzenegger took office in 2004, prisons have eaten up an increasing share of the general fund – 10.9 percent this year compared to 8.7 percent in 2004.

Meanwhile, higher education funding has consistently lagged behind, dipping below 7 percent of general fund spending in 2006 – the lowest level in at least 27 years, according to the state Department of Finance.

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

To protest such cuts, a series of marches, rallies, teach-ins and class walkouts are scheduled to take place Thursday at college campuses and public spaces in California and other states. The demonstrations, part of a “National Day of Action for Public Education,” will include a rally on the steps of the Capitol.

Wednesday’s late-afternoon gathering at the Capitol included California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott, Sacramento State University President Alexander Gonzalez and UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, among other top administrators and student leaders.

CSU Chancellor Charles Reed was traveling outside the state but released a statement saying he hoped the meeting would put higher education on the path to recovery.

“Public colleges and universities are the key to the work force engine that will help bring us out of this economic recession,” Reed said.

UC President Mark Yudof also did not attend the meeting, but had traveled to Sacramento on Monday to urge Schwarzenegger and lawmakers to address the 10-campus system’s funding needs.

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