Are Fee Increases Worse Than Reducing Enrollment?

The fight against higher fees for higher education is a foolish one.

Congratulations everyone -- students, faculty, politicians -- who went after California State University for its fee increases. They've been beaten back, and won't be increasing fees anymore, the system announced this week.

Instead, they'll be reducing enrollment.

So to keep fees down, fewer kids will be able to get a public higher education in California. Cal State said Monday that all applicants for fall 2013 will be wait-listed, pending the results of November's vote on whether to raise taxes. How is that a victory?

It's long past time for those who support Cal State to stop fighting the symptoms of the funding problem at Cal State -- higher fees, class cuts, even higher salaries for campus presidents (who are harder to lure to Cal State given its troubles) -- and fighting the real McCoy: the budget system itself.

The reason why Cal State will keep seeing cuts in state support is that the budget system makes it far easier to cut higher education than other things. That's because higher ed doesn't have the same constitutional, initiative and court protections that other big pieces of the budget do.

So either fees will go up, or enrollment will go down, until the system itself is fixed. Even the passage of the tax increases in November will only provide temporary ballast.

Until Cal State's backers see this, their push on fees is only likely to hurt the state -- by reducing access to higher education.

(And if you want a reminder why Cal State matters, HealthyCal's Daniel Weintraub explains here).

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