California Road Map for Affordable and Accessible Higher Education

My parents arrived in this country in the 1950s, like all immigrant Americans, dreaming of a better future. My dad came here with just three shirts, two pairs of pants, and barely any money in his pocket. My parents’ relentlessness and determination led to a middle-class neighborhood with better schools, and a college education for my three siblings and me. Today, I’m running for governor because of the opportunities the education I received afforded me. Nowhere else in the world is a story like mine possible. Public higher education is vitally important because it gives so many families, like mine, the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.

When California originally adopted its Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960, it expressed the intent that higher education “remain accessible, affordable, high-quality and accountable” (Legislative Analyst’s Office, 2004). In recent decades, however, the State of California has throttled down its investment in higher education. Higher education’s falling share of the state budget has meant increased costs for students and their families, larger class sizes, and an ongoing challenge to community colleges, CSUs, and UCs to maintain the quality of instruction that has made California a model for the rest of the world. As a result, over the past 20 years, tuition has tripled for UC and CSU undergraduate students. With room, board, and books, the cost for an in-state UC undergraduate student can now top $30,000 each year.

What’s just as bad is that California students have to worry about the crippling costs if they are one of the limited few who can access a spot in our CSU or UC systems. The “fiscalization” of higher education policy has meant that more qualified California students are being turned away in favor of out-of-state students, who pay significantly higher tuition rates. Those who do find a spot are more often taught by lecturers instead of tenured professors, while tenured professors are increasingly told to devote more of their time to research over teaching.

We know the lack of affordability and accessibility has the potential to create dire consequences for our economy. Some experts predict California will fall about 1.1 million college graduates short of economic demand by 2030, if current trends persist. If California is to keep its place as the sixth largest economy in the world, we need to be training Californians to fill the jobs of tomorrow. Now is the time to renew our promise to California’s students and restore the original goals of the Master Plan.

 

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The American Dream begins and ends with our ability to access education. Today, millions of students are losing out on that dream due to the financial burdens of student debt. Students are being pressured into pursuing careers for a paycheck to pay off student loans, rather than pursuing their true career goals.

For generations, California’s community colleges were free, giving all people the opportunity to obtain higher education. But beginning in 1984, the state began charging enrollment fees for community colleges. Since that time enrollment fees have increased more than 800 percent. This is particularly tragic for California workers, who are displaced by economic upheavals and turn to community colleges for retraining.

Cities and states across the nation are jumping on board and are finding innovative solutions to provide two free years of community college. California needs to find a way to get to that place, where we make community college free for two years, while ensuring students are on the right path through participation and graduation.

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Affordability is key to ensuring Californians continue to have access to higher education. We should strive for a system that ensures that no student, who is otherwise eligible, is turned away from a public school because of their financial circumstances. Every student needs a debt-free option at a public university.

I am calling on the CSU and UC systems to delay any consideration of tuition or fee increases until at least 2019. I understand, better than most, that our colleges and universities have balance sheets to fulfill, and that the state has cut per pupil funding for decades. But I also understand that the rate at which tuition and fees have increased is unsustainable and a disservice to our students.

2009 was the year the dam broke. In the wake of the recession, budget cuts forced California’s colleges and universities to begin imposing massive tuition and fee increases. It was in that year alone that the CSU Board of Trustees voted to hike fees by 10 percent. Not to be undone, the UC Board of Regents later that year approved an astonishing 32 percent fee increase for undergraduate students. In the years that have followed, tuition and fees have increased several more times, pushing the promise of an affordable education even farther out of reach for many students.

Over the course of the next 10 years, I am committed to reducing tuition and student fees for our UC and CSU systems, both for undergraduate and graduate students, to their pre-2009 fee hike levels. This isn’t going to be easy, but you can trust that I am committed to this cause and will use the same creative and effective strategies for maximizing state resources that I have demonstrated in my 20 years as a state constitutional officer.

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While Governor Brown has shown a willingness to increase public education funding in this year’s budget, we all know that we need to find a long-term solution to address the CSU and UC systems’ chronic budget challenges.

 As governor, I will significantly increase the state’s investment in higher education, and I will vigorously pursue a dedicated or otherwise reliable source of funding for higher education. We can’t continue to subject higher education to the whims of our budget negotiation process. I believe the state budget should reflect our values and priorities, and that means we must restore our promise to our colleges and universities.

But revenue is only one side of the equation. We also must make sure we’re using that money wisely. We need to establish further efficiencies in the ways the CSU and UC systems spend their resources. As state treasurer and previously as state controller, I understand the importance of auditing. We must demand real accountability from the CSU Board of Trustees and the UC Board of Regents, in exchange for our investments to ensure that their plans have the students’ best interests at heart. Simultaneously, we must hold our institutions accountable for improved results, including time to degree, responding to the needs of increasingly diverse student bodies, lowering student debt, and addressing the projected gap between future workforce needs and the number of expected graduates.

Finally, we need to ensure we’re doing everything possible to maximize revenue at our UC system without sacrificing educational quality. We should consider additional entrepreneurial ventures to maximize revenue opportunities, including capitalizing on the UC system’s status as the top university system across the country that is granted patents in the United States.

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In the wake of the recession’s deep funding cuts across the state, many UC campuses actively recruited students from outside California to pad their budgets. Between 2007 and 2016, the University of California quadrupled its non-resident students — leaving many qualified Californian students without a spot in one of our UC schools.

The Board of Regents approved a policy in 2017 that capped non-resident enrollment at five UC campuses at 18 percent. This policy also allowed UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Irvine, and UC San Diego, which — at the time had non-resident enrollment rates higher than 18 percent — to be capped at the proportion that each campus enrolled in the 2017–18 academic year.

Let me be clear, this cap isn’t nearly good enough. Our tax dollars are funding these institutions, and they should be supporting California’s students. As governor, I’ll go back to the Regents and demand a better deal that ensures Californians are our first priority when it comes to enrollment.

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While we have a lot of work to do at the state to level the playing field for California’s students, we also need to do more to directly help our students and their families afford the skyrocketing costs of college.

We must take steps to address the unsustainable increase in California state tuition, but, in the meantime, we must also incentivize families to establish a college savings account for every child by enacting refundable tax credits or by providing other incentives to families. I already started this work as treasurer when I unveiled a new Matching Grant Program — in partnership with ScholarShare 529 — to help low- and moderate-income California families jumpstart saving for college. As governor, I will do more to give families these kinds of tools to save.

We also know that a growing number of students are graduating with over-burdensome debt, depressing their entire economic future. Fewer college graduates can afford to buy a home, start a family, or save for retirement. As treasurer, I sponsored SB 674 — the RELIEF Act — which would allow borrowers with high-interest private student loans to refinance at lower rates. As governor, I am committed to helping our students refinance their loans so they have an opportunity to pursue their dreams without falling into economic hardship.

Finally, we need to address underlying factors that have put stress on our education system — an unfair economy that has left the middle class behind; the inability of students and families to afford textbooks, supplies, food, and housing; threats to public education funding from Washington, DC; affordable health care; financial aid, and so much more. As California’s controller and treasurer, I’ve stood up and fought for California’s students and working families. I am now the only candidate you can trust to act with honesty and integrity, and who will stand up to Donald Trump’s war on public education.