Adan Morales, 22, is dedicated to graduating - at any cost. "I couldn't afford to commute to and from school so (in my junior year) for five days a week I would sleep in my car," said the San Bernardino resident and fourth-year Cal Poly Pomona psychology major.
"Now I'm just trying to get out of here, and I don't eat as much because I can't afford it because I'm trying to pay for school. Luckily, though, my aunt took me in so I can eat twice a day."
It's a story that may be all too familiar to many public college or university students who have been hit with tuition and fee increases over the past decade due to state funding reductions.
California's projected financial gap of $15.4 billion hasn't helped the situation either.
Students protest the state budget cuts to education that could lead to higher tuition, larger class sizes and lower enrollment, at the registrar's office at Cal Poly Pomona on April 13. (Thomas R. Cordova/Staff Photographer)
As a result of the state's fiscal woes, Gov. Jerry Brown's 2011-12 proposed budget calls for $1.4 billion in cuts to community colleges and public universities and that's if the state's elected leaders place a five-year extension of temporary taxes on a special June ballot and voters approve it.
However, with no signed state budget and the failure of a June election to develop, higher-education officials are anticipating cuts that double what they initially expected.
"The challenges we face are horrendous, and to compound things we've already admitted our fall class," said Cal Poly Pomona President Michael Ortiz.
"So if our budget is reduced by another $500 million ... what are we going to do with that class that is coming into the next year?
"It's a real devastating situation we find ourselves in with what's proposed in an all-cuts budget - it's beyond comprehension as to how we're in this situation."
Under the proposal, the 10-campus University of California system and 23-campus California State University system would each see a $500 million reduction and the state's 112 community colleges will be cut by $400 million in the next fiscal year beginning July 1.
Cal Poly student Adan Morales, 22, of San Bernardino sits next to a poster during the student protests on campus on April 13. Morales, a fourth-year psychology major, said he slept in his car five days a week during his junior year because he couldn t afford to commute. "Luckily, though, my aunt took me in so I can eat twice a day," he said. (Thomas R. Cordova/Staff Photographer)
Hoping for best, planning for worst
Reaction to the crisis in higher education has come in the form of rallies, marches and teach-ins, furloughs, fewer classes, no summer school and higher student fees and tuition at the institutions that once were free for every student.
"You can hope for the best but you have to plan for the worst case as well," said Albert Karnig, president of Cal State San Bernardino.
The lack of funding for higher education is nothing new, Karnig said. In the 14 years he's been the campus president there have been budget cuts, he said.
For each student, the state now provides $6,741, with students contributing an average of $4,938 per year for their education, according to the CSU system.
Tuition for full-time undergraduates in the CSU system has consistently been on the rise, from $1,428 in the 2001-02 school year to $4,440 this school year, and increasing again to $4,884 in the 2011-12 academic year.
Even with the increase in tuition and fees, the CSU will operate with less funding per student than was the case in 1998-99. At the same time, mandatory costs - like energy, pension contributions and health care - have continued to rise, according to the CSU.
"There is an interaction between how much we get and how much we spend," Karnig said. "So that has been part of our real challenge...."
Community college students have also felt the pain in their pocketbooks. Back in 2001, students were paying $11 per unit. Now they're paying $26.
In addition, the governor, a Democrat, recently signed a bill that will increase community college fees from $26 to $36 per unit in the fall.
"Eightypercent of our students receive financial aid," said Thom Armstrong, president of Barstow Community College. "But it is an issue for those who are not receiving financial aid who are working or supporting a family. That means they will have to save."
Costs beyond the pocketbook
Eric Crowder of Fontana, a student at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, said the fee increase is causing more harm than good.
"Community colleges are designed for students who don't have the finances to go to a four-year school," said Crowder, 24, "and raising the prices is going to make going to school even worse for them."
Chaffey College President Henry Shannon said it is disturbing to see a student wanting to take a class to advance his or her education and the class isn't available.
"I look at the fact that we've invested a lot into the prison system in the state, and the price of incarceration versus the price of higher education," Shannon said. "You won't find many societies, I don't think, that will put as much investment in prison as they do in this country versus the education system.
"For the individual it becomes a liability in the society and that's a vicious cycle, but I would rather be supporting colleges, and not prisons."
This is not the first time the community colleges have absorbed significant budget cuts. The system took a $520million hit in 2009-10. It resulted in 38,000 fewer course sections being offered and 140,000 fewer students enrolled compared with the previous academic year, officials said.
In addition, California students seeking higher education at a public institution are facing stiffer out-of-state competition, said Lori Bettison-Varga, president of Scripps College in Claremont.
At a panel discussion, "The Future of Higher Education," on April 27 at Scripps, Bettison-Varga said 88.5percent of UC slots went to Californians in 2009.
But, she said, that's going to change in the next year as more out-of-state and international students become a part of the campus population to help combat the budget cuts.
The typical fee for an international student to attend a UC school is about $34,000, and the same slot for a California student is about $11,000, Bettison-Varga said.
"So they're seeking the out-of-state and international population as a very important revenue source," she said.
The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office has proposed some help in the form of a measure that imposes a 15percent charge on the value of each barrel of oil extracted from California to help fund education.
The revenue raised and placed in a new state account, the Competitiveness Education Fund, would be distributed monthly for non-capital purposes as follows: 30percent to public school districts, 48percent to community college districts, 11percent to the CSU system and another 11percent to the UC system, according to the LAO's website.
But Cal Poly Pomona's Ortiz worries if education funding doesn't increase, the university's philosophy of learning by doing may be in jeopardy.
Because the campus is not theory- based, it means the campus has to provide more laboratories and other places for students to demonstrate their skills, which raises costs, Ortiz said.
With less funding comes fewer opportunities for all, officials say.
So much so, that Chaffey's Shannon sees the state's relationship with community colleges as abusive.
"People view us as just whining," he said, "but people in education are not whining. They're saying this is a reality "
"Folks who don't know how bad it is, don't know how bad it is. And it's almost as though you have to be hit in the face with it. Until the crisis is in your face, in your living room, it's almost as if it doesn't exist."