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Education a responsibility society owes to itself

A measure of a people is the value that it places on education. The people of Ventura County have long shown their commitment to this important public good. It is the foundation of our democracy, the engine of our economy and the nourishment that inspires us all to our full potential. Now however, the 40-year effort to bring a public, four-year university to the county risks being undermined by one budget season of the state of California. The educational excellence for which CSU Channel Islands has become known and its ability to provide regional access are assailed. Many of us have noted with concern the steady erosion in state funding for higher education. Expected 2009-10 general fund support for the California State University is $500 million less than a decade ago, yet, the system today serves 100,000 more students. The state now plans to cut an additional $584 million (a 20 percent reduction) from the CSU budget, affecting enrollment, employees and operational expenses. Our commitment is to serve as many students as possible without sacrificing quality and to preserve as many jobs as possible. Even so, these unprecedented budget cuts will affect CSUCI, its students and the county in several significant ways. — Channel Islands, along with all CSU campuses, cannot admit new students for the spring 2010 semester. Enrollment must remain flat for the fall 2010 semester, despite increasing demand that has resulted in more applications for admission at CSUCI than at many of our larger CSU sister campuses. — Management and nonunion employees will be furloughed two days a month for the next year, with the exception of public-safety personnel. Bargaining units are in the process of voting for furloughs or layoffs. Students may find some changes in class schedules and limited campus services as a result of the furloughs. — Campus construction projects, approved and funded by the voters, have been suspended, including a CSUCI project for a safer entryway to campus. — Undergraduate student fees for California residents will increase by $672 per academic year beginning in the fall, bringing fees to $4,827. While these are the lowest fees among comparable institutions nationally, measures are being taken to mitigate the effect on students by increased university grants, federal financial aid and federal tax credits. The combination of furloughs, fee increases and reduced enrollment still will require campuses across the CSU to cut an additional $183 million from 2009-10 budgets. These shortsighted measures to cut higher-education funding are counterintuitive, when one considers that for each dollar invested in the CSU, nearly $5 is reaped by the state and the community. In fact, CSU-related expenditures create $13.6 billion in economic activity. College graduates’ median annual income is $20,000 more than someone with a high school degree and nearly $1 million more over a working lifetime. With California ever reliant on personal income tax for its general fund revenue (55 percent), our state should be increasing the number of college graduates, not limiting their enrollment. I want to assure the citizens of this region that even in these troubled times, Channel Islands’ commitment to its students and our resolve to provide outstanding educational experiences remain firm. I am gratified by the dedication of faculty, staff and students who continue to make this institution “a distinctive place of exceptional quality a campus of innovation one which is far ahead of many much older and better-established universities,” as reported by the WASC accreditation commission. The citizens of Ventura County have always understood the value of public education beyond one’s personal needs, as the commitment to create CSU Channel Islands testifies. As a state, we need to recommit to the idea that education is not a luxury, to be pruned and discarded when times are difficult. It is a responsibility that our society owes to itself. Richard R. Rush is president of CSU Channel Islands.

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