Sad state of affairs

The idea that UC tuition could approach $25,000 is a disturbing reminder of the challenges our state faces.

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Gov. Jerry Brown's statement that UC tuition could reach $25,000 per year in a Wednesday speech to the California Hospital Association is a chilling reminder of the seriousness of the university and the state's financial situation.

We don't realistically expect in-state tuition to reach that level, at least not yet - considering the strong reaction to the 32 percent increase last spring, we cannot imagine the response if the UC Board of Regents proposed a 100 percent increase.

But it would be naive to expect ourselves to be immune from further fee hikes, and the fact that the governor is publicly raising the spectre of such extreme measures is a sign of how desperate the state of higher education in California has become.

This statement comes after public confirmation that negotiations between Gov. Brown and state Republicans to place tax extensions on the ballot in June have stalled - itself a troubling sign that suggests that the $500 million cut to the UC system signed by Brown March 24 is only the tip of the iceberg.

Any measure to seriously defund the UC system is a shortsighted move that risks a drastic shortage in California's human capital, which would cripple the state's ability to maintain one of the world's largest economies. Private colleges and out-of-state students cannot be relied upon to alone fill this shortage - hopes for the future of our economy cannot rest in an elite few.

As understood by the writers of the California Master Plan for Higher Education - signed by Gov. Brown's father in 1960 - an accessible and affordable public education system is essential for the state's economic future.

This statement should be taken by all Californians as a call for immediate action: Legislators should redouble their efforts to compromise and put the tax extension on the ballot, and voters should remember this message and hold their representatives accountable for the future of the UC system.

Students have a unique role in this debate - as firsthand beneficiaries of the UC, they must publicly call attention to the special place of the university and the dangers that it faces. Next year's external affairs vice president has his work laid out for him - the state of public education in California, and by extension the state's economic future, is on the verge of the greatest disaster it has ever faced.

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