Everyone knows that the University of California has a funding gap. In a dramatic showdown with the governor and top state lawmakers late last year, UC President Janet Napolitano, the former secretary of U.S. Homeland Security and Arizona governor, made it clear that if she doesn’t get more money for her system in the next fiscal budget, students are going to pay – big time.
Maybe you haven’t heard, but the California State University system needs more money, too, and about as much, $97 million.
To make this point, CSU Chancellor Tim White is more likely to fling out his arms and ask you to imagine the two wings of the majestic but imperiled California condor. One of its great wings is California’s need for a degreed workforce, he explains. On the other wing is the capacity of the 23-campus CSU system, which must be noticeably smaller as it is not keeping pace with the demand.
Perhaps nothing illustrates the difference between the leaders of California’s two public university systems than their particular, if peculiar, approaches to playing the budget game. Though it seems that neither approach has swayed the state’s tightfisted governor, whose proposed budget Friday held fast to the $120 million in additional funding each for UC and CSU for next year. But it will certainly play out in the successive months as they lobby legislators for a larger share in the final budget they adopt.
For one, they’ve both characterized their institution’s funding need in opposite contexts.
Napolitano is holding hostage five years of tuition hikes if her budget needs aren’t met.
White said CSU trustees don’t “have the appetite” for a tuition hike on the system’s approximately 447,000 students. He merely points out that without more money, the campuses will have to turn away between 20,000 and 30,000 qualified applicants next year. Many are from low-income families in search of the economic opportunity that comes with a diploma. More than a third of CSU’s grads are the first in their families to earn college degrees.
White, himself a product of the California State University system, visited The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board Monday. He was in town to attend Gov. Jerry Brown’s swearing-in ceremony, during which the governor said pointedly of the state’s public higher education system: “I will not make the students of California the default financiers of our colleges and universities. ... Everyone has to do their part: the state, the students and the professors.”
The governor is distrustful of the ability of CSU and UC to become more efficient, 21st-century institutions. But the realities of that have hard consequences for Californians. For example, before the recession, CSU historically increased enrollment by as much as 4 or 5 percent each year. Without a significant increase in funding, this fall’s enrollment growth will be 1 percent.
Napolitano visited the Editorial Board in November, days before the regents meeting, to preview her funding message: Give us more money or the kids get it, in the form of five years of tuition hikes as high as 5 percent. That was a much more stark contrast, but does it mean UC needs money more? No, although it does suggest Napolitano is a more bare-knuckled politician.
Though they are both fairly new to their jobs – White marked two years as CSU chancellor this month and Napolitano will reach her second anniversary in September – there are many other ways the two diverge.
Napolitano is formidable, a bit intimidating and projects absolute confidence. White, a lifelong academic, while not at all diffident, is much more approachable, and uses his audience as a teachable moment.
One can’t imagine Napolitano goofing with students in the student union by spinning around on the floor with her stocking feet in the air. You don’t have to imagine White doing that; on YouTube.com you can see a video of him attempting a break dance move at CSU Dominguez Hills. She is confrontational; he’s collaborative.
“He’s a personification of an old African proverb: If you want to move fast, go alone. If you want to move far, go together,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week in an interview. Newsom has a unique position to observe both leaders as an ex-officio CSU trustee and UC regent.
White must find the right balance. The health of the state depends on that. It’s not hyperbole. The California State University system is one of the state’s greatest economic engines: One in every 10 workers in this state is a CSU grad; 5 percent of all the nation’s graduates have a CSU degree; and nearly half of all the college degrees awarded in the state come from a CSU.
The deliberate and slow approach is fine, for now. But too often CSU is overlooked for its glamorous sister, UC. While Naplitano’s take-no-prisoners approach rankled state leaders, White could stand to be bolder as he makes the funding case for the sake of his campuses.