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Higher Education in California: Investing in Public Higher Education


California’s investments in public higher education have contributed to the state’s economic development for many decades. But state funding has declined over time—California invests less per student (adjusted for inflation) at its public universities than it did 30 years ago. When state contributions dropped dramatically during the Great Recession, the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) increased tuition to make up for the lost revenue. This has raised questions about the cost of providing a college education. According to a 2016 PPIC Statewide Survey, a solid majority of Californians believe that higher education affordability is a big problem for the state.

Recent state budgets have included funding increases for higher education, and some California policymakers have acknowledged that the state’s disinvestment in higher education is partially responsible for rising student costs. At the same time, many higher education leaders are concerned that the current financial model of public higher education is inefficient and unsustainable. Clearly defined goals, greater transparency, and better data systems can help ensure that California’s investments in higher education continue to benefit the state and its residents.

This publication is part of a briefing kit that highlights our state’s most pressing higher education challenges in seven key areas:



We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Sutton Family Fund.

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