Higher Education Feels the Pinch
State budget deficits, population growth force schools to study limiting enrollment
LOS ANGELES — STUNG by recession and a decade of declining federal presence in health, education, and welfare, America's institutions of higher learning are rethinking for the long term:* In California, the guarantee of a place in public college, university, or community college for every qualified Californian - the foundation of the state's 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education - is on the table for reconsideration. Hit by soaring enrollment and dwindling budgets, presidents of the nine-campus University of California (UC) system, the 20-campus California State system, and the 107-campus community college network say they cannot accommodate all eligible students, as the plan mandates. * In Texas, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board - faced with the highest enrollment in state history - last week began appointing representatives from colleges statewide to consider ways of capping attendance. Faced with fewer dollars and 130,000 more students than in 1985, the new task force will analyze how to consolidate programs, focus on individual campus strengths, and eliminate overlapping course work. * At the Universities of Michigan, Iowa, and Colorado, cutbacks in state funding this month have goaded long-term moves to reduce course offerings, lay off faculty, increase student fees, or cut programs. Michigan's Provost's Advisory Committee on Excellence has asked the university's world-renowned medical school to trim its budget 25 percent over four years. "There are so many other claimants on state monies that universities are just not getting what they've been used to," says Robert Clodius, president of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges. "The result is a protracted cutting back." "Throw a dart at a map of the US and you find the same problems in every state, public and private institution alike," adds Robert Rosenzweig, president of the Association of American Universities. Besides Texas, California, and Florida - where burgeoning immigration exacerbates the complexities of equal access for minorities - states worst hit are Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Virginia, and Oregon. Though enrollment pressures are greater in the West than the East, observers note that estimated student population increases for 1993 and 1996 will similarly pinch every institution in the country. "The level of spending that all US institutions enjoyed in the '80s simply cannot be maintained," says Yale spokeswoman Martha Matzke. "This is the beginning of a long-term retrenchment." "The twin pressures on colleges now are to compete for tax dollars while pushing to keep up with global competitiveness," says Glenn Stine, an analyst with the Pew Higher Education Research Program. "That means businesses demanding their employees graduate high in their classes or go back to school so the company can get ahead." In California, such pressures have hit every level of the state's three-tiered higher education system. As drawn up by public and private institution representatives in 1960, the state's plan holds that the top eighth of high school graduates should be eligible for the UC system; the top one-third should be eligible for Cal State; and everyone else wanting to benefit from additional education can attend a community college. UC enrollment is expected to jump from 160,000 to 226,000 from 1989 to 2005, Cal State from 375,000 to 495,000, and community college from 1.5 million to 2 million. Meanwhile, California is facing the largest state deficit in American history: $14.6 billion. The UC system has already accepted a $300 million cut in state funds this year. "The question now is whether or not the state of California will choose to fund the future growth of UC," says president David Gardner. His 10-percent increased budget request this year of $2.4 billion must compete with a 15 percent rise in welfare costs, a 13 percent increase in prison population, and a 15 percent rise in medical care to indigents. "The port of entry [to higher education] for most people in this state is through the community college," says Statewide Community Colleges Chancellor David Mertes. By law, his system must accept every student that applies, which in recent years has meant 88,000 students in excess of facility limits. "We now do not have the money or space to drive our master plan," he says. Beyond campus-wide scrutiny to eliminate costs, education officials have put a new emphasis on greater coordination within varied state systems. Besides the task force created in Texas last week, the California Postsecondary Education Commission yesterday began a funding study for the state Legislature to identify ways to keep or alter the state's master plan, the only one in the US to guarantee public higher education. "We will be questioning every premise of how and if citizens should be educated, at what level, and what cost," says Warren Fox, executive director. "There are many signs that [the plan] needs to be changed."