Gov. Brown proposes faster and more affordable education

Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal for 2013-14 provides increased funding for California's higher education and aims at improving graduation and transfer rates.

After several years of reduction in revenues, the current budget proposal suggests a five-percent increase in funding for community colleges in California.

"This small increase does not address the magnitude of great loss we had," said Chui L. Tsang, Santa Monica College president and superintendent. "But this new budget proposal would start to restore what has been reduced. The additional funding, although it is a small amount that we will be getting, will help tremendously."

Even though the budget proposal is still being revised and will not be available until May of this year, students can expect additional class offerings, according to Tsang.

As stated in the proposal, it is planned that the 112 community colleges in California will focus on the offering of high-demand courses and core programs that provide general education, basic skills, and classes necessary for certificates and degrees. In addition, $16.9 million from the budget is intended to fund more online classes.

The budget proposal emphasizes the improvement of graduation rates and the acceleration of completion and transfers.

In order to encourage students to identify their educational goals and to shorten their time to finish their degrees, the new policy requires students who exceed the accumulation of 90 semester credit units to cover the full cost of instructions, making them ineligible for the Board of Governor's fee waiver, in addition to losing the status of priority enrollment.

"I'm in opposition to the budget as it stands," said Yacob Zuriaw, AS director of financial support and student advocacy. "There is money given to more classes, but there are some limitations to it as well that push people out of the system with the 90-unit cap."

In addition to the 90-unit cap, the budget suggests that funding will be based on the amount of completed degrees and transfers as opposed to the number of enrolled students, as it currently states.

"SMC would probably have an advantage on some fronts because SMC has a reputation for success, particularly in the transfer area and completion," said Randal Lawson, SMC executive vice president. "However, the devil of the details is going to be determining what we are going to define as completion, and how we are going to measure it."

According to Jeff Shimizu, SMC vice president of academic affairs, the new funding strategy based on completion might become a disadvantage, since students who attend classes but do not seek a degree would not be taken into account.

“The concern we would have is the new funding proposal based on completion rates because we don't have a mechanism of tracking," said Shimizu.

"I am always strongly opposed to performance based funding," said Zuriaw. "It rewards schools in nice areas and penalizes schools in bad areas."

Avocational classes that students enroll in for non-certificate purposes would no longer be considered a priority, which "would be very controversial because those things are what we've been doing at the college for a very long time," said Shimizu.

An additional change that would significantly impact students is the application process for the BOG fee waiver. Students would have to file a FAFSA, instead of filling out a simple application form.

Although it is clear that the governor's proposed educational policy strives for affordable access to higher education and the improvement of transfer and graduation rates at community colleges, it remains to be decided how it will be implemented.