In a town hall meeting Thursday, California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott spoke about the state of the budget. Students, faculty, and representatives in the Pasadena area attended the address at Pasadena City College.
Chancellor Scott said that the condition of the budget for community colleges in the State of California is bad. There have been cuts of nearly $809 million since 2008. The most recent cuts in February, roughly $149 million, have made it so that possibly “16,000 community college students will not be able to transfer to California State Universities in the spring of 2013.”
Scott explained that the State revenues have dropped due to things far back in California’s history. “In 1978 when Prop 13 passed, suddenly the property tax in California were placed under a strict kind of cap,” he said. ” California began to rely more on income tax … the problem with income tax is that it is very volatile –it goes up and down – and in the early ’90s times were very good.”
The Chancellor addressed this issue by adding that it is difficult to fix the problem of taxes because there has to be a 2/3 majority in the California legislature. Since one party has said that they will not raise taxes, progress can be very difficult. If revenues drop suddenly and you cannot raise taxes, then you have to start making cuts.
Scott noted that 10% of all of California’s revenue goes to the corrections program. It costs nearly $40,000 a year to keep an individual behind bars. With the three strikes policy in California, someone could spend a long time in jail. If they were to spend 25 years in prison, then it will cost the state nearly $1 million. This 10% of total revenue is “more than we spend on the University of California and California State University combined. Sometimes I think we are more interested in prison stripes than graduation gowns,” says Scott.
“With a drop in revenues and growth in other expenditures, education began to be pushed out,” said the Chancellor. In February of this year, the education budget was cut by $149 million, a little over 7%. This caused schools to raise their tuition and to continue to cut classes. There are not many things community colleges can cut from their current budgets. “85% of most community colleges’ budget has to do with paying personnel,” says Chancellor Scott. “So most colleges have begun to contract the number of courses that they offer.”
In the first year of cuts, 133,000 first-time students were lost in the registration process. Since schools are cutting their class offerings, there are fewer opportunities for these students to get into colleges and they are slowly being turned away.
Legislature is trying to do things at the state level. Scott says the most important is the tax initiative which will be voted on in November. “If it passes, it will give all colleges and all education more money. It may mean $300-400 million for community colleges.” Scott also adds that if this initiative does not pass, then it may mean another big cut is on the way for all community colleges. Legislature is also looking at things such as priority enrollment in order to help more students get in and out of the community college system successfully.
Scott’s last words to students were, “Don’t give up.” He reminded students that they are much more likely to succeed financially if they stayed in school and finished their college education. Even though it is easy to get frustrated and give up on the community colleges, work is being done to help students get their education quickly and successfully.