Close The Higher Education Funding Gap

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.

During the past quarter century, enrollment at the University of California and California State University has increased dramatically, while State funding for the campuses has declined precipitously.  That is a formula for disaster—not only for our higher education system and for thousands of aspiring young Californians, but also for the economic health of our state.

A new publication by the California Budget and Policy Center illustrates the problem.  Since 1981-82, UC enrollment at increased by 113%, while State funding per student has declined by 51%.  During the same time period, CSU enrollment grew by 68%, even as per student State funding declined by 26%.  The results of this disconnect are clear—too many qualified California students have been turned away, we have lost top notch faculty and much of the cost burden has been shifted to students and their families in the form of higher tuition and fees.

Fortunately, there has been a growing consensus in the Capitol that this situation has got to change.  Both the State Assembly and Senate versions of the 2018-19 State Budget call for full funding of UC and CSU funding requests to enable both institutions to accommodate more students without further increasing tuition.  Hopefully, the final Budget enacted by the Legislature and signed by Governor Jerry Brown will reflect this level of support for higher education.

Welcome as they are, incremental funding increases are not going to make up for the decades of State disinvestment in higher education.  As we elect a new Governor, it is time to look forward to full restoration of California’s commitment to the finest public higher education system in the world.

Further tuition increases aren’t the answer, especially when housing and transportation costs are multiplying students’ financial burden.  While there is always room for greater efficiency and streamlining, both UC and CSU have made great strides in reining in costs.

Governor Brown has mused that our universities should look to emanating enterprises like Chipotle that have made their mark by limiting consumer choices and providing quality for a limited menu.  There is always value in emphasizing efficiency and quality, but universities are by their nature, institutions that provide breadth of learning.  More than trade schools, it is the mission of the university to give students the tools to become successful innovators, creators, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, teachers, and health care providers.  Just as diversity of student body and faculty are important, so is the diversity of curriculum that will allow young people to pursue their interests and passions.

Both UC and CSU, along with our community colleges, are vital assets that should  be nurtured and adequately funded.  Higher education needs to be, once again, a State priority.  As this election year progresses, a sustainable, long term commitment to higher education should be a big part of the discussion

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