California is facing a higher education crisis. By 2030, we will have a shortfall of 1.1 million college graduates, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. That means we will lack the teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs and other highly-educated professionals needed to keep our economy strong and growing.
While policymakers and the media have taken notice and are beginning to talk about how to expand college access, the focus has narrowed on public institutions – the California Community Colleges, California State University and the University of California. While they are critical to any solution, they do not have the capacity to meet the state’s long-term needs. Over the past four years, the CSU has turned away more than 69,000 qualified California high school graduates, while UC Berkeley and UCLA enroll less than 20 percent of in-state applicants.
The nearly 80 private nonprofit colleges and universities in California must be part of the solution. They already award more than 20 percent of all undergraduate degrees and more than 50 percent of graduate degrees statewide. These schools have the capacity to serve more students, and are ready to forge partnerships with the public sector.
All of them rival our world-class public schools in academic excellence. They include small liberal arts institutions and nationally-ranked research powerhouses. Some offer faith-based, artistic, or non-traditional programs, while others specialize in business, law or medicine.
And they are not exclusive enclaves for the wealthy, but represent the broad diversity of the communities they serve. About 40 percent are Hispanic Serving Institutions, and more than 80 percent are veterans-friendly Yellow Ribbon schools. At the University of La Verne and Simpson University, more than a third of students are the first in their families to attend college.
On average, private schools are graduating students faster than public colleges, at a fraction of the cost to taxpayers and with comparable or less student debt.
California’s Master Plan for Higher Education recognized private nonprofit colleges and universities as key partners, but nearly 60 years later, that part of the dream has faded.
Year after year, the Legislature has threatened to cut Cal Grants for low-income students who choose private colleges and universities. Similarly, the Legislature has worked to expand the Middle Class Scholarship, but only for UC or CSU students.
Rather than punishing students for their college choices, we have to work together to encourage them to attend the schools that make the most sense for them. The seeds for these types of forward-thinking initiatives have been planted, but they must still be nurtured.
Under a new budget agreement with the governor, between now and 2019-20, members of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities will admit some 5,500 community college students who earn the associate’s degree for transfer and count their credits toward a bachelor’s degree. Private colleges are also increasing support for online programs and increasing enrollment of low-income students. These creative initiatives represent just the beginning of what we can accomplish together.
Our higher education system – public and private – is the best in the world. If we do not harness their combined strengths, we risk losing our students to other states and jeopardizing our long-term economic stability. Our state cannot afford a brain drain.
Devorah Lieberman is president of the University of La Verne and chairwoman of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kristen Soares is president of the association and can be contacted at Kristen.email@example.com.