“We have to invest in science and technology and our universities and that’s building for the future, not stealing from it.” Those words were spoken by Governor Jerry Brown on Meet the Press.   For those of us who believe that higher education needs to be a priority in California, those were welcome words.

It is no secret that in neither his first or second go round as Governor has Jerry Brown been identified as a booster of the University of California or the State University system. Recently, when the UC Board of Regents approved a tuition increase schedule to go into effect if the State does not increase financial support for the University, Governor Brown stood in opposition and proposed a decrease in UC funding in his initial 2015-16 State Budget proposal, unless the tuition increases are rolled back.

The Governor’s intent does not appear to be aimed at saving money by starving the higher education coffers, but rather to use tough love to force what he deems to be important reforms in our public higher education systems. His ideas for improvement include increased reliance on online classes, speeding up the time it takes to attain degrees and a more seamless pathway for transfer from community colleges to the State’s four year institutions.

Certainly, our higher education system must evolve in the context of ever changing technology, culture and demographics. Many of the Governor’s proposals for improvement are worth pursuing, but won’t necessarily have a big immediate payoff. For instance, online learning is very promising, but will require investment in technology and a lot of work to get it right. We all know what happens when the State rushes into the implementation of big IT projects. Further, the virtual classroom has great potential, but is it a viable alternative to the give and take of personal interaction on campus?

A healthy sign that the governor may be tuning into the realities of funding public higher education is his participation in a “Committee of 2”, along with UC President Janet Napolitano, to review the nuts and bolts of UC and come up with a meeting of the minds on key issues. “I think we are moving in the right direction”, the Governor said at the last UC Regents meeting.

State financial support for public higher education has dwindled over the last two decades and was hit hard by the 2008 Recession. The level of State funding for UC is about half of what it was twenty years ago, even with incremental increases in the last few Budget cycles. Both UC and CSU have been forced to ramp up tuition and fees and make significant cutbacks. A significant reinvestment in California’s public higher education system is vital. Even though the CSU system does not now have a fee increase on the table, its 2015-16 budget relies on $97 million from the State over and above what the Governor’s January Budget proposed—without that money either fee will have to be boosted again or access denied to worthy students.

A new statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 56% of Californians want projected State surpluses to be used to restore funding for public colleges and universities, as opposed to 39% who want the surplus funds used to pay down debt and build up reserves. The public gets it.

A stalemate between the Governor and UC and CSU leaders would be tragic. On the other hand increased State funding, coupled with common sense improvements in the way our campuses operate, would be a win-win for everyone.

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. Please visit yestohighered.org