Turning Away the Future

California's budget slashing could cut more than 3,200 eligible students out of their chance to attend the University of California in the fall of next year. Unless the Legislature and Gov. George Deukmejian can agree to restore a major portion of the $64 million cut from the university budget, UC for the first time would turn away eligible students.

To cover the cuts, UC plans to roll back admissions next year to 1987 levels. Hardest hit would be students applying for UC campuses at Davis, Riverside, Irvine and San Diego.

Under California's higher-education master plan, the state's top students are guaranteed a place in the university system--if not at the campus of first choice, then somewhere among the eight undergraduate campuses. As enrollment pressures grow, UC officials say that they cannot honor the commitment without more money for professors' salaries, increased costs and program improvement.

The California State University system has not yet made a decision on enrollment freezes at its 19 campuses, but officials at Cal State Fullerton already forecast a second straight year of no growth. The system received only a 2.8% budget increase this year.

UC will also increase tuition for out-of-state residents by 10% to ease the budget strain. That increase will raise $4 million. It comes on top of a 5% increase approved last year to take effect this fall. Fees for California residents will average $1,492 this fall, a 4% increase approved last year.

UC says that it will honor its commitment to students admitted as freshmen or transfers this year. It will have the money from one-time sources, like excess lottery funds and the out-of-state tuition increase, to cover higher enrollment; thereafter, it says, it must hold the line at last year's enrollment. If that happens, a UC spokesman said, then 1,156 students could not be admitted at the Davis campus, 801 at Riverside, 537 or as many as 600 at Irvine, 456 at San Diego, 315 at Santa Cruz and 51 at Santa Barbara. UCLA and Berkeley would be minimally affected because they are in effect already full.

UC Irvine Chancellor Jack W. Peltason said that his campus had already been enforcing a slow-growth policy while waiting for several buildings to be completed. "It now looks as if next year we'll have the buildings but no money to hire the teachers to put in those buildings," he told The Times.

When Deukmejian signed the budget, he said he would ask the Legislature to restore $37.8 million for UC when the lawmakers reconvene in August. Because the financial disaster is widespread, however, the Legislature and the governor must take care not to restore higher-education funds at the expense of schools, health or transportation.

The lawmakers will be considering two measures, either of which could ease the financial squeeze on both UC and Cal State systems. One would provide $550 million more for state government by speeding up tax collections. The other would dip into existing revenues for the same amount to restore funds to the budget. The appropriations bill, already passed by the state Senate, includes $49 million for UC.

UC President David Gardner vows to work with the Legislature and the governor to gain relief. But at a recent meeting of the Board of Regents he spoke as strongly as he ever has in public about the lack of wisdom in giving the university a 3% increase rather than the 7% that he says it needs.

After a decade or more in which the university received "woefully inadequate budgets," Gardner said, the system has substantially recovered in the last five years from the neglect that caused top faculty prospects to choose other campuses, the quality of laboratories and libraries to decline, building to halt and morale to deteriorate. Now, however, the state is asking the university to enroll "ever-increasing numbers of students" while refusing to give it the money to do so.

"This is a formula for disaster that, in my opinion, should be as unacceptable to the people of California and their elected representatives in Sacramento as it is to the University of California."

He is right on every count, and the Legislature and the governor's office have no more urgent business before them this summer than to prevent a disaster that need not occur.

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