When it comes to higher education, Gov. Jerry Brown is an enigma. He highlights its importance, but his budget priorities short change the University of California and the California State University.
In his final State of the State address, Brown said “it is clear just how much of our prosperity depends on the intellectual contributions of our institutions of higher learning.” He cited a $5.8 billion increase in annual support for higher education during his latest tenure as governor.
Yet his 2018-19 proposed budget tells a different story. When the state’s finances are quite healthy, he is calling for annual increases in state funding for UC and CSU that are 25 percent lower than in recent years. And those modest boosts since 2011 have hardly made a dent in the state’s disinvestment in higher education over the past two decades.
Both UC and CSU have had no choice but to increase tuition and fees, shifting much of the cost to students and their families. Both systems have also implemented reforms and innovations that have saved many millions of dollars. It is exasperating to hear public officials condemn further tuition hikes, while they withhold the state dollars, making those increases necessary. Even with tuition and fee increases, more than half of students pay nothing thanks to generous financial aid programs.
The state’s investment in higher education should be a no brainer. California boasts the finest public education system in the world. UC campuses rank with Stanford, Cal Tech, MIT, Ivy League schools and other elite institutions. Scientific and medical breakthroughs abound, and the quality of undergraduate and graduate education is second to none. CSU awards more bachelor’s degrees than any other system in the country and trains more than half of new teachers in the state. California’s community colleges enroll more students than any other state and serve as the gateway to productive careers and to four-year colleges. Our public higher education system has made huge strides in diversity and addressing the needs of low-income students.
The Public Policy Institute of California has projected the state will need more than one million additional college graduates in our workforce by 2030. Our economic health depends in no small measure on the vitality and productivity of public higher education. Even as the number of qualified applicants grows, it is tragic that UC and CSU campuses are forced to turn away thousands of Californians.
Obviously, the state has many priorities, but that should not be a rationale for short-changing our higher education system and the tens of thousands of young men and women whose future is riding on a first-rate college education. Because those with a college degree earn substantially more over their careers, our investment in higher education more than pays for itself in economic growth and state and local tax revenue.
State revenues are running ahead of projections. Wouldn’t it make sense to devote a good portion of that money to public higher education?
Dick Ackerman, a former state senator and Assemblyman, is co-chairman of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education and can be contacted at Dickackerman33@gmail.com.
Mel Levine, a former congressman and Assemblyman, is co-chairman of the coalition and can be contacted at Mlevine@gibsondunn.com.