MERCED, CA—UC administration and student leaders forged a united front in Sacramento when they joined forces to press lawmakers to fully fund the university and student financial aid.
"The students were on point, passionate advocates for the university system," UC President Mark Yudof said after a day of joint meetings with legislators that culminated in a discussion with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "I think together with the chancellors and regents, we were a formidable team and made our case."
The message for the March 1 advocacy day was to fund UC's budget, fully support Cal Grants to keep up with rising fees and reinvest in the state's Master Plan for Higher Education.
"We offer a unique perspective when students and regents are lobbying together to focus on the personal stories and the big picture," said Jesse Cheng, the student regent-designate. Cheng said he wanted to help legislators see the connection between the decisions they make and how they affect the lives of students.
Leaders from the systemwide UC Student Association joined Yudof, UC Regents Russell Gould, Richard Blum and Monica Lozano and chancellors George Blumenthal (UC Santa Cruz), Michael Drake (UC Irvine), Linda Katehi (UC Davis), Timothy White (UC Riverside) and Henry Yang (UC Santa Barbara) in visiting lawmakers. Another 200 to 300 students took part in a march and rally at the Capitol to press for greater support and lower fees.
During a visit with the governor, Yudof emphasized the importance of fully funding the Cal Grant program. "In an era of rising fees, there is no way we can provide access to low- and moderate-income students without Cal Grants," he said.
Victor Sanchez, president of the UC Student Association, and Terrell Green, an association board member and vice president of external affairs of the UC San Diego Graduate Student Association, joined Yudof and the three regents in their talk with the governor.
"A lot of our students are being pushed out," Sanchez told Schwarzenegger. "Students aren't as engaged as they'd like to be because they have to work."
Green, a doctoral student in bioengineering, stressed the role higher education plays in the state's economy.
"You can see clearly that graduate research leads to new businesses," she said.
The governor said he agreed with what the students were saying.
"I think everyone at this table is in sync as to what our goal is," Schwarzenegger said. "The only way to get there is to have a budget system and a tax system that gives us stability."
Schwarzenegger blamed California's financial instability on the Legislature's unwillingness to change the budget process, adopt his idea of a rainy day reserve fund or reform the tax system.
He urged students to pressure their legislators to institute these changes, which he said would make more money available for higher education.
The amount the state contirbutes per UC studetns has declined by more than half since 1990. Last year UC suffered a 20 percent cut in state funding. To recover from years of declining state support, UC has requested from the state in its 2010-11 budget $913 million more than the $2.6 billion the university received in 2009-10. The state spending plan the governor introduced in January had $371 million in additional funds. Yudof said if the final state budget includes the $371 million for UC the university would be able to stabilize its finances. But the closer the state comes to the $913 million request, the better off UC will be, Yudof said.
"We've improved the relationship between the administrators and the students," Yudof said in summing up the advocacy effort. "I think we scored some points with legislators. I feel very good about the day, but I don't kid myself. We have a long way to go."
On April 27, Yudof will join the leaders of the California State University and California Community Colleges in another advocacy day in Sacramento. He said students need to keep up the pressure on the legislators to fully support UC's budget request.