While not without controversy, the recent budget agreement between Governor Brown and the state Legislature was welcomed positively by the media and public. The state’s coffers are filling back up. The deal was completed on time. We have a needed rainy-day fund.

While these developments are positive, however, we lament yet another missed opportunity in Sacramento to restore significant support to the real high-speed engine for California’s economy and quality of life — our public colleges and universities. We find the lack of support frustrating, to say the least.

No one disputes the blue chip value of our spectacular system of public higher education, and its return on investment to our 38 million residents. The University of California (UC) alone contributes more than $14 billion in economic activity to the state—and that doesn’t include thousands of UC-related spinoffs that provide high paying jobs and contribute vital tax dollars.

You would think, therefore, our politicians would hitch California’s wagon to public higher education, right? Think again.


When viewed in this light, state support continues to be anemic. Yes, the UC and CSU systems received five percent increases over the Governor’s 2013-2014 budget. They also received modest one-time restricted funding that will be triggered should the state receive higher than anticipated revenues.

However, while Gov. Brown and the state Legislature increased general fund revenues for UC and CSU by five percent, for example, that represents only about a 2.5 percent increase overall because tuition and fees, which pay about half the cost of educating UC and CSU students, have been frozen.

Moreover, the new budget fails to include any funding for enrollment growth, despite the fact that UC and CSU are already educating more than 23,000 California students for which they are not being paid by the state. That translates to a $190 million budget shortfall for our campuses. That money needs to be restored, yesterday. We have more than enough revenue to do it.

While California Community Colleges (CCC) colleges fared somewhat better in the new budget, the state has a long way to go to make up for cuts during the Great Recession that led to layoffs, course rationing, cost increases, larger class sizes and record numbers of returning veterans and unemployed residents being turned away.

Recently, at an event sponsored by our Coalition, which was formed to prioritize higher education in Sacramento, CCC Chancellor, Dr. Brice Harris, focused on the opportunity ahead: “One in eight American students are enrolled in one of our three systems,” he said. “So, if we get this right, we can increase the global competitiveness of this country.”

Our public universities and colleges have done their part, limiting salaries and administration and eliminating nonessential programs.  If we want to invest precious public dollars where we know we can promote growth, spur innovation and foster social mobility and opportunity, there is one place to turn. It’s high time Governor Brown and the California Legislature say YES to public higher education.

Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman (R) is a former California State Senate Leader and Assemblyman, and Levine (D) is a former U.S. Congressman and State Assemblyman. Please visit yestohighered.org