State lawmakers apparently got the message from last fall's election: college students and their families are fed up with skyrocketing and unpredictable tuition at California's public universities.
Gov. Jerry Brown tapped that frustration in his campaign for Proposition 30, and the votes of university students were considered a key factor in passage of the tax measure.
With nearly a month left to introduce bills, legislators have come up with multiple ideas for how to rein in college costs. There's a common theme throughout all of them that California must make sure that college is affordable and accessible. That's what we owe young people, but also what we need to have a strong economy.
The challenge will be to agree on two or three of the best proposals, put them into effect and leave room to tweak and improve them as time goes on. The solution cannot be one that shifts the problem, forcing colleges to reduce offerings. We hope the supermajority Democrats will consider all proposals, no matter the party affiliation of the author, and enact a few that will provide some relief by next fall. Among the ideas put forth so far:
Brown is proposing more online classes to more efficiently reach more students, especially for their general courses. He included a reference to the greater goal in Thursday's State of the State address, drawing sustained applause:
"With respect to higher education, cost pressures are relentless and many students cannot get the classes they need. A half million fewer students this year enrolled in the community colleges than in 2008. Graduation in four years is the exception and transition from one segment to the other is difficult. The University of California, the Cal State system and the community colleges are all working on this. The key here is thoughtful change, working with the faculty and the college presidents. But tuition increases are not the answer. I will not let the students become the default financiers of our colleges and universities."
State Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres, and a Republican colleague in the Assembly, have introduced similar bills that would prevent tuition and fee increases at all levels of higher education the California State University, University of California and community colleges for at least seven years, the same length of time the Proposition 30 tax increases are in effect.
"The proponents of Proposition 30 traveled to many college campuses telling students there would be no new fee increases if it passed," Cannella said in introducing Senate Bill 58. "As we have seen so many times before, money that should go to our public colleges and universities could easily be transferred to fund other programs. This bill makes that promise a guarantee. "
Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, introduced Assembly Bill 138, which would guarantee in-state freshmen a fixed tuition rate for four years at the CSU campuses. "This bill will help new college students acquire a quality education without the fear of being priced out of their degree program before they finish," Olsen said. She explained her bill in an op-ed that appeared in The Bee on Jan. 18. (It is available at www.modbee.com/ opinion.)
As we wrote on Jan. 6, a Chico Assemblyman has proposed a guaranteed $10,000 college degree based on students attending community college and then transferring to a CSU. The proposal attracted our attention because the legislator suggested Cal State Stanislaus as one of three pilot programs to test the idea.
We don't know which of the bills are the best or which will survive committee reviews and political maneuvering of the next several months. What we do know is that the rising cost of college is discouraging students and keeping some from obtaining the education they need to get good jobs. Increasing numbers are going to public institutions in other states, which could contribute to a long-term brain drain for us. California needs high-quality and affordable college options for its residents.