Illustration by Matt Boblet.


In the original version of this story published on January 6, we erroneously reported that the California deficit was $82 billion and had accumulated over the past 12 months.  The correct value of the deficit is $28 billion and is an estimated shortfall through June 2012.

This post was updated on January 8 to reflect this change.

Newly elected California governor Jerry Brown was inaugurated this week, ready to tackle the state’s $28 billion deficit — but is skeptical about how much he will be able to take on in the face of the statewide budget crisis.

This debt figure has already begun plaguing talks about reform as the state’s fiscal situation takes the front seat, leaving topics like higher education in the dust. But the governor will still try to address those problems according to his inaugural speech.

The governor’s plan for higher education was clear during campaign season, but whether he can keep his promises during one of the worst economic times in history remains to be seen.

“Recent state budgets have raised tuition drastically, reduced the number of new students … cut class sections so that students cannot get basic classes they need, and driven good professors to other states,” Brown said on his campaign website. “This situation calls for a major overhaul of many components of the postsecondary system.”

Brown plans to stage this overhaul by creating a new state “master plan,” meant to provide better college access and success for the long-term, he said. He also aims to introduce more online learning and “extended university programs.”

“Technology can increase educational productivity, expand access to higher learning, and reduce costs,” Brown said on his website.

UCSC will begin to implement online courses in March of this year, along with all of the other UCs in California.

Politics professor Daniel Wirls is skeptical of UCSC’s initiatives to create online courses.

“Such courses are best for a limited number of subjects taught in a fairly particular fashion, such as mathematics with machine-graded exams,” Wirls and in an e-mail. “So far the primary purpose seems to be revenue-generation rather than cutting costs or increasing affordability. Greater revenue does not necessarily translate into greater affordability for most students.”

Donna Blitzer, director of government relations, said in an e-mail that she is looking forward to working with Brown on the subject of higher education. She said he is well informed and qualified on the topic.

“We understand he is intending to confront a serious state budget challenge,” Blitzer said, “and we hope to work with him cooperatively on that in a way that preserves the important contributions the UC makes to California.”

Another way Brown hopes to help higher education in California’s current state of crisis is by stopping state transfer of monetary support from those institutions to pay for prisons. He called prison expansion “unnecessarily expensive” and said it would add “substantially to our state’s deficit.”

“We can do this without sacrificing public safety,” Brown said. “By relentlessly pursuing similar cost savings, we can channel needed funds to our higher education system.”

Brown has yet to speak as governor on the higher education issue, but it will not be what all Californians may hope for in the face of the state’s financial crisis, he said.

“The budget I present next week will be painful, but it will be an honest budget,” Brown said in his inaugural speech Monday. “Choices have to be made and difficult decisions taken. Our budget problem is dire, but after years of cutbacks, I am determined to enhance our public schools so that our citizens of the future have the skills, the zest and the character to keep California up among the best.”