California once boasted the world’s greatest higher-education system. As we all know, that distinction is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
The system faces many challenges, but a key one is clear: The entire endeavor has become underfunded. The current recession and the state’s budget crisis haven’t helped. But looking back, it’s obvious that the pivotal reason for our current predicament (e.g., student fee increases, faculty furloughs, broad course reductions) is Proposition 13, a 1978 ballot measure that forced a radical shift in the state’s tax structure. Basically, the measure slashed property taxes—the major source for education funding—and made it tough as hell to raise taxes in California, as doing so suddenly required a two-thirds vote.
All of this is why it was heartening to see students, faculty and administrators from schools across the spectrum of California’s education system join in protest last week against what is finally being acknowledged as a systemic devolution of our education system. Fifty years ago, California made the choice to underwrite higher education. As Sacramento State professor Bill Dorman said last week, that choice to do so “paid extraordinary dividends.”
Let’s hope the protests are a sign that awareness is growing, that the loss of these dividends is simply not tolerable.