Higher Education Funding Momentum Must Continue

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 decisions by the University of California and California State University to hold the line on tuition increases in the Fall are welcome news, provided that Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature follow through with robust increases in State funding for UC, CSU and our community colleges. Otherwise, educational quality will suffer and thousands of deserving students will be turned away.

It used to be that tuition was not a factor at the University as the State wisely underwrote the cost of education. That changed as the State began decades on a fiscal roller-coaster that produced boom and bust Budgets. In the process, much of the cost of college funding at both UC and California State University were shifted to students and their families in the form of tuition and fees. Today, per student State funding for UC is less than half of what it was in 1980-81 and tuition has risen accordingly, even as the system has become more efficient and cost effective.

Fortunately, State higher education funding has edged up in recent years and Governor Newsom’s first budget proposal in January represents a significant recommitment to investment in our higher education system. The Governor’s January blueprint calls for $1.4 billion in added support for UC, CSU and the community colleges. Still the boost of $240 million in operating support for UC is barely half what the University needs. The Governor’s January Budget proposal does cover CSU costs as projected.

For in-state students, tuition was held flat for the seventh time in eight years. Authorizing a modest increase for out of state students is under consideration. There is a mistaken perception that out of state students are displacing Californians, when in fact the higher tuition and fees paid by students from other states and countries, actually, subsidize costs for all students. Non-California undergraduates pay $40,000 in tuition annually, compared to $12,630 for California residents. Reliance on out of state dollars is short-sighted, since having diverse representation, including students from other states and from abroad enhances the educational experience. It is also unfair to non-residents, many of whom will stay in California after graduation, to expect them to underwrite cost gaps created by the Legislature’s failure to come up with adequate funding.

Tuition and fees are only part of the cost equation for students. Food, transportation and, especially, housing are big drivers in calculating the affordability of higher education for most young men and women. Keeping tuition and fee levels under control is a big plus, but there are other critical priorities, including expanding enrollment on all of our higher education campuses to accommodate the tens of thousands of young Californians who deserve a chance at a first-rate education. We also need to be cognizant of the need to recruit and retain the best faculty, to capitalize on technological advances and to maintain high standards throughout the system.

An educated workforce is one of the assets that has enabled California to achieve extraordinary economic success. The Public Policy Institute of California estimates that California over the next decade will require at least a million additional workers with a bachelor’s degree or better. The lion’s share of those new college graduates must come from our public higher education system.

The increases in State higher education funding over the past few years have been a positive sign, but they have been accompanied by mandates to enroll more California students without the dollars to accommodate those additional students. That isn’t sustainable.

Governor Newsom’s initial Budget proposal is a good start for higher education. UC and CSU have responded by forgoing projected tuition increases for the coming school year. Now, it’s the Sacramento budget-makers responsibility to show them the money.

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