Board of Trustees discuss state budget

Samantha Bartholomew

Aaron Brown, second from right, summarizes the state budget to the Board of Trustees Feb. 6. (Viewpoints | Geovanny Guzman)

During their regular meeting Feb. 8, the Board of Trustees discussed the impact Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest state budget will have on Riverside Community College District.

In his budget plan for 2018-19, Brown is moving beyond a traditional formula that funds colleges based primarily on how many students they enroll.

Under Brown’s plan, no community college campus would receive less money than it did under the 2017-18 formula.

However, future funding would be tied to enrollment size, how many students receive state financial aid based on being from low-income families and the number of degrees and certificates granted and the share of students who completed them within three years.

The budget document says the new formula seeks “to improve the incentives for districts to focus on improving student success while providing districts with local flexibility to do so.”

Brown also called for money to give community colleges the option to offer one year of free tuition to eligible students.

In addition, he proposed three percent increases in state funding to both the University of California and the Cal State systems, triggering some to warn that the increases are insufficient and that tuition hikes may be required.

However, that may not be enough to avoid tuition increases that both universities are considering even though Brown wants to keep tuition unchanged.

Brown proposed giving the community college system $120 million to begin creating an online community college that would first enroll students in late 2019. The plan is to use $100 million over seven years to create the college and fund it annually at $20 million.

The budget also includes $46 million to fund a “free tuition” bill the Gov. and the legislature approved last year.

The law gives colleges the option to cover the first year of tuition for any eligible student if the schools revise their programs to improve the chances of earning a degree.

To be eligible for the new funds, colleges would have to adopt a series of reforms, such as partnerships with K-12 schools, additional guidance and other changes as spelled out in the law.

In 2015-2016, 43 percent of the state’s more than two million community college students qualified for free tuition as low-income students through a fee waiver California College Promise Grant, formerly called the Board of Governors waiver.

Both systems this year hiked tuition for the first time in six years. Now UC systemhas raised the possibility of another increase of between $288 and $348 on top of the current $12,630 tuition and mandatory system fees for California undergraduates, not including room and board. Cal States are considering a $228 rise, above the current $5,742 tuition for California full-time undergraduates.

Brown said he wants Cal State to keep improving its graduation rates, which most recently was 22.6 percent within four years and 59.2 percent in six years. He also called on UCs to show more efficiencies and to reduce its controversial spending at its central headquarters which was exposed in a recent state audit.

At UC schools,                        system president Janet Napolitano and Board of Regents chairman George Kieffer issued a statement expressing disappointment that the $92 million in extra general revenue “is less than we anticipated under the framework we established with the governor.”

They noted that the governor’s plan does not include specific funding for UC’s plan to add 2,000 California undergraduates in fall 2018 and its desire to add 500 more graduate students.

Timothy White, chancellor of the 23-campus Cal State system, expressed his criticism in a statement, calling the budget’s proposal to increase revenues by $92 million “both concerning and surprising” since the system asked for a $263 million hike.

According to White, Brown’s plan “could reverse any progress made in the last decade — diminishing student access, success, limiting degree attainment and depriving California’s industries of skilled professionals.”

An update to the budget will come out in May, and the state legislature and the governor must come to agreement on the final spending plan for 2018-19.

“What I’m gathering here is that we are winners in this budget,” Trustee Bill Hedrick said. “We’re going to be on the plus side of this.”