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Expanding Enrollment at UC and CSU

Kevin Cook, Hans Johnson May 23, 2019
Students on UCLA Campus

California’s economy is increasingly demanding highly educated workers. To meet this demand, and to ensure that more Californians are successful in the 21st century economy, the state’s universities will need to admit and graduate greater numbers of students than they do today.

Governor Newsom’s budget proposal offers a step in the right direction, but it could go further.

The governor’s budget provides General Fund increases of 7% for the University of California (UC) and 8% for the California State University (CSU), including funding for enrollment increases of 1,000 and 7,000 students respectively.  The budget also provides $95 million ($50 million for UC and $45 million for CSU) in ongoing funding to improve student success efforts at both systems. This is good news and represents substantial reinvestment in the state’s public universities.

But the enrollment increases fall short of what CSU and UC had been hoping for, and more importantly, short of student demand. In its 2019-2020 budget plan, UC had sought enrollment increases for 2,500 California resident undergraduates in order “to maintain access for projected increases in UC-eligible high school graduates and transfer-ready California Community College students.” CSU had sought an even more ambitious increase of more than 18,000 in order to accommodate more freshmen and transfer students.

As the state moves into the eleventh straight year of economic growth, ensuring investments in higher education is critical—especially in the face of an eventual downturn. Higher education is often one of the first budget areas to be cut during a recession. Today, even after a decade of reinvestment and one of the largest economic expansions in state history, funding per student at UC and CSU still remains below pre-Great Recession levels. And it is far below the funding peaks of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

As the legislature and governor negotiate over the budget, it may be time to consider creating a long-term funding plan for public higher education. An effective multi-year plan would account for increased enrollment, incentivize student success, prioritize equity, and provide a sensible tuition growth plan.  This would allow students and their families, as well as universities, to better plan for the future—and would put the state on a path to meeting the economic demands of the future.

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