UCSA President Victor Sanchez meets with Assemblymember Furutani during intermission. Photo by Arianna Puopolo.
UCSA President Victor Sanchez meets with Assemblymember Furutani during intermission. Photo by Arianna Puopolo.

California must pay. Schools, prisons, roads, welfare and — according to the 50-year-old Master Plan for Higher Education — the University of California are wards of the state.

The 2010 Joint Committee on the Master Plan for Higher Education (JCMPHE) met for the second time Feb. 2 in Sacramento. Based on the testimonies of California students, parents and higher education professors and administrators, the JCMPHE will recommend how the state’s budget should accommodate the Master Plan. The Plan set a precedent of tuition-free higher education in California.

The committee, co-chaired by Assemblyman Ira Ruskin (D-Redwood City) and Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino), will meet a third time before making its recommendation for the 2011 budget.

JCMPHE’s latest meeting focused on “Universal Access.”

“You cannot talk about [access] without talking about affordability,” said fourth-year Victor Sanchez, UC Student Association (UCSA) president and UCSC external vice chair, who made the drive to the Capitol to testify in defense of the Master Plan.

The 1960 Master Plan was tendered to the state legislature in a special session and passed. However, some aspects of the Plan were not put into law.

Among other things, the Master Plan mandates that the UC accept 12.5 percent of California’s high school graduating class and restrict enrollment on every campus to 27,500. Currently, Berkeley, LA and Davis violate this policy.

Dowell Myers, professor of urban planning and demography at USC, testified in the first panel: “The Importance of Universal Access.” He estimates that California gets a $3 to $1 return on investments in college students.

A primary concern of many witnesses was maintaining diversity at the UC.

Ruth Love, P.h.D., professor of education leadership at UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University, emphasized the importance of diversity at higher education institutions.

“Education remains the primary vehicle for social and economic mobility,” she said.

Sanchez shares similar sentiments, warning that current UC enrollment isn’t adequately reflecting the changing California demographics.

Love warned the panel against enacting policies that might contribute to the widening access gap, fearing that the continued reduced enrollment and curriculum is detrimental to students, academically and financially.

“I can’t think of anything more important today in higher education than quality of higher education, affordability of higher education and access of higher education,” she said.

Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-Los Angeles) sits on the JCMPHE. He urges Californians to abandon their fear of taxes, because the 90 percent rise in fees over the last seven years are taxes incognito. However, unlike taxes, fees are not voted on and disproportionately affect middle-class students.

“Let’s not mistake what’s going on in higher education,” he said. “The middle class is getting taxed all to hell.”

Furutani attributes California’s aversion to taxes to mistrust of the legislature.

“The lack of confidence is there because they figure that any tax put on the table is going into this dark hole,” he said.

Until the JCMPHE meets again, Furutani urges students to consider the rationale of their actions.

He said students should put their energy into authoring legislation to generate funds for higher education.

“You can demonstrate all day long but it’s not going to generate any revenue,” he said.

Henry Powell, a representative of UC Academic Senate on behalf of the Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senates (ICAS) addressed the committee in the second panel: “How Access Should Operate in an Ideal World.”

He said the decision to reduce enrollment across all three public higher education systems — the UC, the CSU and community colleges — has serious repercussions for students.

“Eligibility is being redefined on a campus-by-campus basis in order to manage enrollment,” he said.

Keeping in stride with the theme of the discussion, Powell asserted that access is not just about admissions.

“For students, the term ‘college access’ means more than acceptance into college,” he said.

Powell maintains that the state of California is breaking its promise to enroll qualified students, because students are meeting the standards laid out for them by the UC but — due to enrollment cuts — they are being denied.

UCSA President Sanchez posits that the state’s failure to financially support its students has monumental repercussions, which can best be articulated by the slogan, “We’re graduating with mortgage-size loans and no homes.”