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Press Release · November 17, 2010

Concerns Rise Over Funding of Public Colleges, Universities

More Favor Raising Own Taxes Than Increasing Student Fees

SAN FRANCISCO, November 17, 2010—A strong majority of Californians say state funding for higher education is inadequate and most would favor more spending on public colleges and universities even if it means less money for other state programs. These are the findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with support from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

A poor economy and persistent state budget deficit have taken a notable toll on Californians’ views about state funding for public higher education in the PPIC survey—taken before the state legislative analyst projected a $25.4 billion budget shortfall over the next 18 months. Today, 74 percent of residents say the state does not provide enough money for colleges and universities, up 17 points from October 2007 (57%). Most Californians (68%) believe that spending for public higher education should be given a high or very high priority—a 14-point increase from November 2008 (54%)—and 57 percent favor spending more on higher education even at the expense of other programs. Most (62%) are very concerned that the state budget situation will cause significant spending cuts in higher education, up 14 points from November 2008 (48%).

As Californians overall have grown more concerned about funding for higher education, parents’ concerns about paying for their children’s college education have also increased. Today, 57 percent of parents with children 18 or younger are very worried about being able to afford college (43% October 2007, 46% November 2008, 50% November 2009). Concern is especially high today among Latino parents, with 72 percent very worried about being able to pay for college—up 19 points since 2007.

“Residents see higher education as crucial—to personal success and to California’s future,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “They are clearly worried about the state’s ability to fund public colleges and universities that are high quality and widely accessible.”

Californians Split on Increasing Taxes To Maintain Funding

What steps would residents be willing to take to raise revenue for colleges and universities? They are divided on whether they would pay higher taxes to maintain current funding (49% yes, 49% no), with a strong partisan divide (64% of Democrats yes, 51% of independents and 69% of Republicans no). However, Californians’ willingness to pay higher taxes has increased over the last year (41% yes, 56% no in 2009). And they are much more likely to favor raising their own taxes than to raising student fees to maintain current funding (35% yes, 62% no). Opposition to raising student fees holds across party lines (63% Democrats, 60% Republicans, 59% independents). (The PPIC survey was taken before the University of California proposed, and California State University approved, fee increases earlier this month.)

A majority of adults (57%) support another idea under consideration: admitting more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition. But support drops to 26 percent if doing so would mean that fewer California students would be admitted.

Asked about measures colleges and universities have already taken to deal with decreased state funding, Californians are most likely to be very concerned about increasing tuition and fees for students (65%), followed by admitting fewer students (62%), offering fewer classes (59%), and reducing the pay and hours for college faculty and staff (46%).

Although spared from state budget cuts this year, higher education still receives less funding than in earlier years. Most residents (66%) believe educational quality will suffer if state government makes budget cuts to higher education, while 29 percent say educational quality could be maintained. Asked to choose among approaches that would significantly improve the quality of the system, a majority (54%) choose a combination of using funds more wisely and increasing funds, while 34 percent say just using funds more wisely would significantly improve quality, and just 11 percent say a funding increase alone would do so.

Higher Education Viewed as High Priority for New Governor

Most adults (75%) nationwide say that a college education is very important (Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll, June 2010), and the PPIC survey shows Californians are even more likely to say so (86%). A strong majority (63%) see a college education as necessary for a person to be successful in today’s work world, while just 35 percent say that there are many ways to succeed without college.

Nearly all Californians say that given all of the issues facing the new governor in 2011, planning for the future of the state’s higher education system is very important (76%) or somewhat important (21%). However, confidence in the state government’s ability to plan for the future of California higher education is not high: most residents (57%) have very little or no confidence in the government’s ability to so, while 40 percent have some or a great deal of confidence. This is a reversal from 2007, when 57 percent had some or a great deal of confidence in the state’s ability to plan for the system’s future.

Most Support Universal Access—And Most Say Cost Is a Barrier

A key principle of California’s 1960 master plan for higher education was universal access to college for all qualified state residents, and most Californians today concur with this view. Asked whether they think all Californians who are qualified to attend college should have an opportunity to do so, 85 percent say yes and just 12 percent say admissions should be restricted because of the cost to the state.

But only 26 percent of Californians think that the vast majority of people qualified to go to college are able to do so and 71 percent say many people don’t have the opportunity. An overwhelming majority (73%) think the price of a college education keeps students who are qualified and motivated from attending. Strong majorities across political, regional, and demographic groups agree. At the same time, a majority (55%) think that almost anyone who needs financial help can get loans or financial aid, while 40 percent disagree. However 74 percent say students must borrow too much money to pay for a college education.

Given Californians’ concerns about college costs, it is not surprising that there is strong support for government programs that make college more affordable. Large majorities favor increasing government funding for work-study opportunities (88%) and for scholarships and grants (84%). To a lesser degree, they also favor having a sliding scale for tuition and fee costs so that students would pay according to income (72%).

UC, CSU, Community Colleges Get Good Grades

While Californians are most likely to identify the state budget situation (74%) or overall affordability (60%) as a big problem in the higher education system, far fewer see quality as a big problem (22%). And as they have since October 2007, strong majorities of residents say each branch of the system is doing a good or excellent job. They view each similarly, with 62 percent saying the California State University system is doing at least a good job (9% excellent, 53% good) and 64 percent saying the same for the University of California (15% excellent, 49% good) and community college system (13% excellent, 51% good).

Asked specifically about the role of community colleges, a plurality (41%) say the most important goal for this branch of higher education is preparing students to transfer to four-year schools. Fewer say the goal is to provide career technical or vocational education (25%) or courses for lifelong learning or personal enrichment (15%). Even less frequently mentioned: providing associate’s degrees (8%) and providing basic skills or remedial education (5%). Nearly all Californians say it is very important (78%) or somewhat important (18%) that community colleges include classes that prepare students to transfer to four-year colleges and universities, and nearly all say it is very (73%) or somewhat important (23%) that community colleges include career technical or vocational education.

More Key Findings

  • Higher education seen as important to future—page 12
    Nearly all Californians say that the state’s higher education system is very important (77%) or somewhat important (20%) to the quality of life and economic vitality of the state over the next 20 years. And a majority (56%) say that if current trends continue, California will not have enough college-educated workers for the jobs and skills likely to be in demand in 20 years. The share of residents who hold this view is up 7 points since last November (49%).
  • State leaders: low approval ratings overall, low for handling higher education—page 17
    Just one in four Californians (25%) approve of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s job performance, similar to the low ratings he has received all year. Just 19 percent approve of his handling of public colleges and universities. The legislature ranks lower, with 14 percent approval ratings overall—matching the record low—and 15 percent approving of lawmakers’ handling of higher education.
  • Economic, racially diverse student body valued—page 21
    Three in four Californians (77%) say it is very or somewhat important for public colleges and universities to have a racially diverse student body. More than eight in 10 (83%) hold this view about economic diversity.
  • Nearly all parents aspire to college for their children—page 23
    Among parents of children 18 or younger, nearly all hope their youngest child gets a college degree (42%) or post-graduate degree (46%). Among racial/ethnic groups, strong majorities of both white and Latino parents hope their child gets a college degree (37% whites, 52% Latinos) or post-graduate degree (54% whites, 30% Latinos).


The PPIC Statewide Survey has provided policymakers, the media, and the general public with objective information on the perceptions, opinions, and public policy preferences of California residents since 1998. This survey is part of a series on K–12 and higher education, environment, and population issues funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,502 California adult residents interviewed from October 19 to November 2, 2010, on landlines and cell phones, in English, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese), Vietnamese, or Korean. The sampling error is ±2.5 percent for all adults, ±2.9 for the 2,080 registered voters, ±3.2 for the 1,551 likely voters, and ±4.1 percent for the 947 parents of children 18 or younger. For more information on methodology, see page 25.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.

PPIC is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. As a private operating foundation, PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.