The numbers are in and California still boasts the nation’s finest public higher education system.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that we cannot afford to continue underfunding of public higher education without jeopardizing quality and access.  A new report from the Public Policy Institute of California projects that the state will have a shortfall of 1.1 million college educated workers by 2030.  Where will these productive California workers come from if we don’t step up our investment in higher education?

The latest U.S. News and World Report rankings have five University of California campuses in the top ten of public universities in the country.  By every measurement, our State’s University of California, California State University and community colleges have been the gold standard for public higher education.  Since World War II, California has become an economic and cultural colossus—in no small  part because of the creative, technical and intellectual firepower generated by our public higher education system.  It is heartening that our campuses have remained top tier institutions in the face of so many years of disinvestment by the State, but our ability to continue to turn out the best and the brightest graduates is very much in doubt.

It must be said that in the past few years, the Governor and the Legislature have taken initial steps to turn the tide and begin the process of reinvestment.  The 2015-16 State Budget includes significant increases for community colleges tied in to Proposition 98 formulas and more than $100 million added to the base of support for the California State University system.  The University of California was helped by multi-year support to defray unfunded pension liabilities that have allowed UC to hold off on tuition increases for the next two years.

Despite this positive news, State funding levels for higher education remain well below where they were before the last major recession.   State investment is needed to keep tuition and fees affordable, attract and retain top flight faculty and enable qualified Californians to take advantage of our great schools.  The economy has come back in California and State investment in higher education needs to come back, too.

It is imperative that decision-makers in Sacramento not rest on their laurels when it comes to higher education funding.  The voters get it.  A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 80 percent of voters say that California’s public higher education system is very important to the quality of life and economic vitality of the state over the next twenty years.

One of the arguments in favor of allowing legislators to spend up to twelve years in either the Senate or Assembly is that lawmakers will be able to focus on the longer term.  There is no better place to start than carving out a State funding plan that assures that our higher education system remains on top and continues to be a major engine of growth and opportunity in California.

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