Higher Education Adds Up

Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine
Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman is a former California State Senator and Assemblyman, and Levine is a former U.S. Congressman and State Assemblyman.

The numbers tell the story.  California’s high schools are turning out more college eligible students than ever before and our community colleges, the University of California and the California State University system are making headway to accommodate increased demand.  The only lagging indicator is State funding for UC and CSU.

The state produced 420,000 high school graduates in 2015—13.9% met UC eligibility requirements and 41% were eligible for CSU.  The State’s half century old Master Plan for Higher Education envisioned 12.5% for UC and 33.33% for CSU.   It is good news that more and more young people are college ready, but it also means that our higher education system must have the resources to accommodate them.  Higher education is the most effective tool for improving social mobility and providing opportunity for everyone. This is an investment that we can’t afford not to make.

For the 13th straight year, UC applications broke records with more than 221,000 students applying for undergraduate admission.  Both freshman applications from high school graduates and community college transfer applications increased substantially.  The largest segment of applicants was from the Latino community–37.2%.  Two in five applicants are from low income families and 46.4% would be the first in their families to graduate from a four-year college.  More California students are now enrolled at UC campuses than at any point in history.

CSU has a similar story with more than a third of the student body consisting of first in their family college attendees and more than half identify themselves as students of color.  Over the past five years, CSU has created access for an additional 35,000 Pell Grant (low income) recipients—more than the entire Ivy League plus UC Berkeley, UCLA and USC combined.  More than half of all undergraduate degrees earned by California Hispanic, Latino, African-American and Native American students are awarded by CSU. It is also noteworthy that 94% of CSU students are from California.

With all this good news, there has to be a catch.  Even as our public higher system is making strides in serving growing demand without diminishing educational qualify, the State remains far behind in supporting these institutions.  Per student State funding for the community colleges is up about $1,000 from historic highs, but CSU per student funding is down about 20% and UC per student funding is about half of what it was 30 years ago.  This has shifted much of the cost burden to students and their families.

To their credit, Governor Brown and the Legislature have stopped the bleeding and made modest increases in higher education funding in recent years, but there is a long way to go.

It is no secret that California has achieved the world’s sixth largest economy in no small measure because of our higher education system.  The Golden State’s prosperity is built on innovation, creativity, and technological advancement.  Our campuses are the backbone of our economy—turning out the ideas, the breakthroughs and, most importantly, the people who drive our future.

Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman is a former California State Senator and Assemblyman, and Levine is a former U.S. Congressman and State Assemblyman.

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