State Needs to Step Up for Higher Education

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 polls are in and University of California campuses are slipping.  We are not talking about football or basketball, but about academics.  In the most recent international survey of higher education, UC campuses dropped in 80 categories.  Clearly, the severe fiscal diets imposed on UC and the California State University systems by Sacramento lawmakers have begun to take their toll.

Make no mistake, UC and CSU are still top-flight institutions, but they are not going to maintain their excellence, let alone meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of young Californians whose futures depend on higher education without significantly more State revenue. Even with modest State spending increases over the past few years, per pupil State support for the University of California, which saw a $1 billion drop in State funding during the 2008 recession, has fallen by more than 40% from historic levels.  Allocations for the Cal State system are down by almost 20%.

Both UC and CSU have made significant reductions in their cost structures and improved efficiencies, but the State cutbacks have shifted much of the burden to students and their families through tuition and fee increases.  Now, both systems must consider another round of tuition increases in the face of inadequate State allocations in the 2018-19 Budget proposal from Governor Jerry Brown.

Fortunately.  A bi-partisan group of legislators has stepped up to the plate and proposed “full funding” amounting to an additional $105 million for UC and $171 million for CSU this coming year to avoid another round of tuition hikes and, more importantly, to allow both institutions to support enrollment growth, faculty recruitment and retention, needed facilities and student services. Senator Ben Allen, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, says “investing State resources in preserving college affordability must be a priority.”  Senator Steve Glazer says,“the Legislature must step up.”

Others in the bi-partisan legislative group supporting full funding include Assembly Higher Education Chair Jose Medina, Assemblywoman Catherine Baker and Senators Bill Dodd, Ed Hernandez, Bob Hertzberg, Henry Stern and Scott Wilk.

With California’s workforce facing a shortfall of more than a million college graduates in the next decade, now is the time to reinvest in our system of higher education.   Both UC and CSU are embarked on ambitious efforts to open their doors wider to California students and increase diversity without sacrificing academic quality.  Governor Brown has proposed an online community college program and UC President Janet Napolitano has announced an initiative to guarantee qualified community college graduates the opportunity to transfer to a UC campus.  Accommodating more students at UC and CSU requires faculty, facilities and student services that must be funded.

With a healthy State revenue picture, there is no excuse for not passing a 2018-19 State Budget that fully funds our public higher education system and obviates the need for another round of tuition increases this year.  Investment in higher education pays huge dividends for our economy and for the people of California.  A stingy 3% increase for UC and CSU is simply not enough.

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