The college admissions cheating scandal is a juicy crisis of real importance, but if we want equal opportunity for college education, the scandal shouldn’t be our focus.
The way I see it, the dramatic cheating revelation is kind of like a big crash on the highway. Everyone wants to slow down to look at what happened but, for most of us, the important thing is to think about where we’re going.
I come to that conclusion because I have a unique perspective, based on my own educational history and my position as speaker of the California Assembly.
I don’t have a diploma from a super elite university, but I do have a corner office in Sacramento’s most historic building, the State Capitol. The way I see it, abuse of privilege is the crash, but our end goal is to make educational opportunity fair. An end to admissions fixing by the wealthy will help, but it won’t solve everything.
Why not? California has nearly 400,000 high school seniors graduating each year. That is more than 50 times the total undergraduate enrollment at Stanford. Throw in USC, along with our most prized University of California campuses, and all those graduates still won’t fit.
My education taught me about the importance of opportunity for all. I came from a working class family where college education wasn’t a given and wasn’t even a major goal.
Instead, I had a high school performance that was less than lackluster. I managed, at one point, to get my GPA down to 0.83. Instead of college after graduation, I got a night job.
I was unmotivated, but I was smart enough to realize quickly that manual labor was a dead end for me.
Cerritos College, part of California’s great community college system, fired up my academic interests, and my parents didn’t have to pay $500,000 to get me in.
It cost, as I recall, $5 per semester.
The point is affordability. In the Legislature, we have been working to make community college education free for as many students as possible.
We aren’t there, but that’s our goal – as is making sure that students aren’t homeless or hungry.
After community college, I attended California State University and UC schools. Not the campuses that hit the news most often for their excellence, but schools with great professors and strong offerings.
We need to make sure parents and students realize that aiming high can be accomplished in other ways than attending schools that boast of bests.
Students need to look at themselves and their goals to find the institution that fits – not the ones now causing fits of indignation.
It’s about what you do with your education, not where you get it. Yes, we need to send out higher education equivalents of the CHP, ambulances and tow trucks for this latest disaster.
While they do their jobs, here’s what the educational equivalent of GPS tells me about getting where we want to go:
▪ We need to keep boosting funding for Early Childhood Education as we have been in recent years, and as Gov. Gavin Newsom has promised. The Blue Ribbon Commission I set up has already released a draft report on how we can strengthen this educational base for all families.
▪ We need to keep addressing K-12 funding. A state economy that is now the fifth-largest in the world won’t keep succeeding with students funded at rates that leave us near the bottom in the nation.
▪ We can’t keep making our best institutions unaffordable. I’m glad the UC didn’t raise tuition for California students this year, but we also need to find a way to guarantee graduates don’t leave school with huge debts.
▪ We need to do the same for students in for-profit programs, and hold those programs accountable for failing to prepare students to win jobs when they graduate.
▪ We should look at ending overemphasis on discredited standardized exams.
▪ For those who don’t think college is their path, we need to keep boosting career training opportunities, including collaborations between high schools and community colleges.
▪ We need to make sure everyone serious about their education feels welcome and safe on our campuses, regardless of race, religion, gender identity or any other part of who they are.
These things won’t erase the advantages of wealth or privilege, I know. They can, however, make it an irrelevant factor for most students, as it was for me.
Celebrities behaving badly is an old story. Let’s focus on creating a new story for California.