Everyone knows that the University of California has a funding gap. In a dramatic showdown with the governor and top state lawmakers late last year, UC President Janet Napolitano made it clear that if she doesn’t get more money for her system in the next fiscal budget, students are going to pay — big time.
Maybe you haven’t heard, but the California State University system needs more money, too.
To make this point, CSU Chancellor Tim White is more likely to fling out his arms and ask you to imagine the two wings of the majestic but imperiled California condor. One of its great wings is California’s need for a well educated work force, he explains. On the other wing is the capacity of 23-campus CSU system, which is not keeping pace with the demand.
Perhaps nothing illustrates the difference better between the leaders of California’s two public university systems than their particular approaches to playing the budget game.
Napolitano, a former Arizona governor who is versed in hardball politics, is holding hostage five years of tuition hikes if her budget needs aren’t met. White, meanwhile, says that CSU trustees don’t “have the appetite” for a tuition hike on the system’s approximately 447,000 students.
But White does point out that without more money, CSU campuses will have to turn away between 20,000 and 30,000 qualified applicants next year. This will impact the Valley as many Fresno State students are from low-income families in search of economic opportunity that comes with a diploma. More than one-third of CSU’s grads are the first in their families to earn college degrees.
White, himself a CSU product, visited The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board Jan. 5. He was in Sacramento to attend Gov. Jerry Brown’s swearing-in ceremony, during which the governor said pointedly of the state’s public higher education system: “I will not make the students of California the default financiers of our colleges and universities. ... everyone has to do their part: the state, the students and the professors.”
Napolitano visited the Editorial Board in November, days before a UC Regents meeting, to preview her funding message: Give us more money or the kids get it, in the form of five years of big tuition hikes.
That was a much more stark contrast, but does it mean UC needs money more? No, although it does suggest Napolitano is a more bare-knuckled politician.
Though they are both fairly new to their jobs — White marked two years as CSU chancellor this month and Napolitano will reach her second anniversary in September — there are many other ways the two diverge.
Napolitano is formidable, a bit intimidating and projects absolute confidence. White, a lifelong academic, while not at all diffident, is much more approachable, and uses his audience as a teachable moment.
Meanwhile, the governor is distrustful of the ability of CSU and UC to become more efficient, 21st-century institutions.
But the realities of the governor’s perspective pose hard consequences for Californians. For example, before the recession, CSU historically had grown enrollment by as much 5% each year. Without a significant increase in funding, this fall’s enrollment growth will be 1%.
It must be pointed out that this decline in CSU admissions growth doesn’t mesh with Brown’s stated plan of closing California’s income gap by boosting the economy with a highly skilled and educated work force.
The CSU system is one of the state’s greatest economic engines: One in every 10 workers in this state is a CSU grad; 5% of all the nation’s graduates have a CSU degree; and nearly half of all the college degrees awarded in the state come from a CSU.
White’s deliberate and slow approach is fine, for now. But too often CSU is overlooked for its glamorous sister, UC. While Naplitano’s take-no-prisoners approach is rankling state leaders, White could be bolder as he lobbies for funding for his campuses.