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Reinvest in education to revitalize state's future

More than a half century ago, California enacted a bold, historic pledge to all high school graduates that they would have the opportunity to earn a college degree from one of the state’s public institutions. The Master Plan of 1960 made California a trailblazing model for higher education, cultivated a skilled workforce and forged its place as a leader in the national and global economy. Despite the best of intentions, today that promise is broken and California’s future is at stake. Since 2007, state support for higher education has declined by more than 30 percent. For the California State University system, that’s meant nearly $1 billion in slashed funding, doubled student tuition, as many as 25,000 eligible applicants denied each year and significant roadblocks and longer paths to earning a degree. With the state’s budget stabilized, it’s time to restore California’s investment in public higher education and preserve its future as an economic driver of our state. While the costs of supporting it are considerable, the consequences of not supporting it are devastating. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, by 2025, California is on track to have 1 million fewer college-educated workers than the economy will require. This month, I joined administrators and students from the CSU, University of California and community college systems to express our concerns before the state Assembly’s Committee on Higher Education. The committee, chaired by Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, sought our perspectives and recommendations on California’s higher education affordability structure to guide future policy. Our message was resounding: Students are bearing the burdens of the state’s economic woes. Educational access and quality are being compromised. Current funding and enrollment levels condemn California to a shortage of college-educated workers. The future of our state depends on legislators’ actions. At CSU Channel Islands, the 23rd and newest of the CSU campuses, the reduction in state support has stymied our growth at a time when expansion is critical. When the university opened in 2002, we hoped to serve more than 6,475 students by 2013. Funding levels have only allowed CI to grow to 5,100 students in the current year. We can admit only 1 in 15 applicants. And we’ve put on hold priorities such as new academic programs, staff to serve students, intercollegiate athletics, and facilities that would enrich our campus, community and region. Through enterprise and community partnership, we’ve made the most of a difficult situation. For example, CI worked with the region’s hospitals to create a nursing program that addresses the critical shortage of nurses. Donors generously stepped in to enable much-needed facilities and capital improvements. Faculty members won sizable federal grants supporting education and outreach programs. And even CI students themselves voted to increase student fees to help finance campus improvements. We are proud of these examples, which have allowed CI to grow through innovation rather than dependence on state support. But this is not sustainable. Without additional enrollment growth and investment from the state, we cannot deliver what our community needs and deserves. Our students are the most powerful reasons for investing in the CSU. Vanessa Bahena is one such example. Growing up, Vanessa never dreamed of going to college. She lost her mother at a young age, faced financial and personal challenges and worked through high school. At CI, Vanessa has emerged as a campus leader. The first in her family to attend college, she’s student government president, a campus mentor and an articulate advocate for all students who aspires to work one day in politics and advocacy. I know Vanessa will give back to the state of California at least 10 times what it provided to her. And she is just one of the 427,000 CSU students whose future is linked to our state’s prosperity. I urge you to support California’s future by letting our elected officials know how important higher education is to you and by partnering with CI as we continue building a world-class institution for our region. We must work together to ensure the state funds enrollment growth so we have the workforce, community leaders and economic strength we all want for our state. Let’s deliver on our promise of making higher education — and a better life — attainable for every California high school graduate.

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