This is a critical time for higher education in California. Higher education matters to Californians, who are applying to the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) in record numbers. It also matters to the state, whose future prosperity depends on an educated workforce. And California can—indeed, must—do more to increase the number of college graduates. That was the message at the launch of the PPIC Higher Education Center presented by Hans Johnson, center director and PPIC senior fellow.
There is much to be done in the three areas the PPIC Higher Education Center will focus on, Johnson said, providing examples in each one:
- Access: California ranks 47th in the nation in the proportion of high school graduates who go directly to a four-year college.
- Outcomes: Fewer than half of community college students ever earn certificates or degrees—or transfer to a four-year institution. Fewer than 60% of CSU students earn bachelor’s degrees.
- Finance: Tuition at CSU and UC is at an all-time high. California faces the ongoing challenge of figuring out how to fund the higher education system.
But Johnson said he is optimistic. The public systems are adopting innovative strategies, and there is increased interest—on the part of the public and the legislature—in higher education.
Following Johnson’s presentation, Kevin de León, the state senate’s president pro tem, and Janet Napolitano, University of California president, discussed a range of issues in a conversation with Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. The speakers sounded similar themes.
Both de León and Napolitano emphasized the need to better fund public higher education and expand access at a time when a diverse group of Californians is coming of age. The leaders were asked about their reactions to a highly critical state audit of UC, which concluded that the university hurt California high school graduates by admitting too many out-of-state applicants.
De León said the findings were not surprising, given funding cuts by the state: “When you make deep cuts and when you shortchange California students, in particular, these are the consequences.”
Napolitano said that after the state made deep cuts in UC’s budget, the university had no good options: it could have reduced enrollment slots for California students, raised tuition even more than it did, or brought in more out-of-state and international students. UC chose the latter. She urged Californians—particularly in the legislature and the executive branch—to take a step back.
“Those decisions were made, they had to be made,” she said. “You have to make the best of a bad situation. Now, what do we do together moving forward and what is our collective vision?”