PPIC Logo Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · November 14, 2018

Many Ready for Change in Higher Education System


SAN FRANCISCO, November 14, 2018—Most Californians say public higher education should be a high priority for the next governor, and they are ready for a change in policies in the state’s college and university system.

These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from the College Futures Foundation.

Large majorities of Californians (74% adults, 73% likely voters) say the state’s public higher education system should be a high or very high priority for the new governor. Fewer than half (48% adults, 41% likely voters) say the system is generally going in the right direction.

Asked if the next governor should generally continue Governor Jerry Brown’s policies on public higher education or change to different policies, half (51% adults, 52% likely voters) prefer a change, while just 31 percent of adults and 34 percent of likely voters want to continue current policies. Democrats are divided between continuing Brown’s policies (44%) and changing to different ones (37%), while a majority of independents (58%) and an overwhelming majority of Republicans (84%) want to see a change.

Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, said: “Most Californians want the new governor to change course when it comes to public higher education, with fewer than half saying it is going in the right direction today.”

Asked to rate Brown’s handling of higher education, fewer than half of Californians (45% adults, 44% likely voters) approve. His overall approval rating is higher (50% adults, 53% likely voters). The legislature’s approval rating for handling higher education (42% adults, 35% likely voters) is also lower than its overall job approval rating (46% adults, 44% likely voters).

Affordability Seen as Big Problem

What are Californians’ concerns about the higher education system? Most (58%) say overall affordability is a big problem, and an additional 25 percent say it is somewhat of a problem. By contrast, just a quarter (26%) say enrollment capacity is a big problem and only 20 percent say the quality of education is a big problem. Across parties, majorities (65% Democrats, 63% Republicans, 60% independents) say affordability is a big problem.

In a state with one of the highest costs of living in the nation, the survey asks which is the bigger financial burden for students: tuition and fees or housing and living expenses. Residents are divided: 45 percent say tuition and fees, 34 percent say housing and living expenses, and 17 percent volunteer that the two are equally burdensome. Notably, the San Francisco Bay Area is the only region in which residents are more likely to name housing and living expenses as the bigger burden. Most Californians (59%) are very concerned that students who attend the state’s public colleges and universities are taking on too much debt, and most (61%) think there is not enough government funding for scholarships and grants for students who need financial help.

“Many Californians agree that college affordability is a big problem, with many pointing to housing and living expenses as well as tuition and fees,” Baldassare said.

Majority Favor Minimum State Spending Guarantee for CSU, UC

Majorities of adults (56%) and likely voters (57%) say the level of state funding for public higher education is not sufficient. Community colleges and K–12 public schools are guaranteed a minimal level of state funding under Proposition 98, passed in 1988. Most residents (63%) and likely voters (61%) say that it would be a good idea to do the same for the California State University and University of California systems. Across parties, a solid majority of Democrats (73%) and independents (65%) and a slight majority of Republicans (51%) say this would be a good idea.

“Citing a lack of state funding, many Californians are open to ideas about new funding sources and a state spending guarantee for the Cal State and UC systems,” Baldassare said.

Should additional state funding be tied to student outcomes, such as graduation rates? Majorities of adults (64%) and likely voters (57%) say yes. Most Democrats (68%) and independents (66%) share this view, while Republicans are more divided (44% favor, 48% oppose). Majorities across demographic groups and regions favor the idea.

When asked how colleges and universities should spend extra money if the state increases funding, 52 percent of adults and 55 percent of likely voters would prefer that it be used to increase resources to help current students obtain degrees. Fewer adults (38%) would prefer that it be used to increase enrollment capacity so that more students can attend.

Most Favor “Split Roll” Tax That Would Benefit Higher Education

How would Californians raise revenue for higher education? One possible source would be a “split roll” property tax, which would change Proposition 13 so that commercial property is taxed at current value while strict limits on residential property taxes remain in place. A potential 2020 initiative would direct the revenue to K–12 education and local government.

When Californians are asked how they would vote on a split roll property tax that directs some of the revenue to public higher education, 58 percent of adults and 56 percent of likely voters say they would vote yes. Democrats (77%) are much more likely than independents (57%) and far more likely than Republicans (27%) to favor this idea. In PPIC’s January statewide survey, which did not mention using the revenue for any specific purpose, 46 percent of likely voters were in favor of a split roll tax. In the April survey, 53 percent of likely voters favored a split roll system with some revenue directed to K–12 education.

Another possible revenue source is a state bond to fund higher education construction projects. Asked how they would vote on such a bond measure, 66 percent of adults and 57 percent of likely voters are in favor.

Three Branches of Higher Education System Get Good Grades

Solid majorities of adults rate the three segments of the public higher education system as good to excellent: 68 percent for the California Community Colleges, 66 percent for CSU, and 68 percent for UC. A quarter of adults rate the systems as not so good or poor. Majorities of those who attended a college in one of the systems give that system a positive rating.

Most Californians (57%) also say the state’s public colleges provide sufficient academic support and course planning for students to obtain a degree. African Americans (67%) are the most likely to express this view, followed by Latinos (64%), Asian Americans (59%), and whites (52%). Californians age 18 to 34 (65%) are more likely than older Californians (56% age 35 to 54, 51% age 55 or older) to say academic support is adequate.

When Californians are asked about who is responsible for a student’s success in higher education, 27 percent say the student is solely responsible and 61 percent say the university needs to help.

Californians Divided in Their Views on Equity

Do all qualified students have an opportunity to get a college education? Half of Californians (53%) say students from low-income families have less opportunity than others. A third of residents (34%) say low-income students have the same opportunities, and 12 percent say they have more opportunity. Majorities of African Americans (58%), Asian Americans (56%), and whites (55%) say low-income students have less opportunity, while fewer than half of Latinos (47%) say so. Majorities across income groups say low-income students have less opportunity.

When asked about equity for qualified students who are ethnic or racial minorities, Californians are divided. While 42 percent of residents say these students have about the same opportunity to get a college education, 40 percent say they have less opportunity and 15 percent say they have more.  Across racial/ethnic groups, a majority of African Americans (52%) believe qualified minorities have less opportunity to go to college. Pluralities of Latinos (48%) and Asian Americans (45%) say that opportunities are about equal. Whites are divided about whether qualified minority students have an equal opportunity to go to college (38% less opportunity, 38% about the same).

Most See Four-Year Degree as Very Important for Economic Success

A majority of adults (56%) say a four-year college degree is very important for economic and financial success in today’s economy. Latinos (69%) and Asian Americans (61%) are much more likely than African Americans (49%) and whites (46%) to hold this view. When Californians are asked if a college degree is necessary for a person to be successful in today’s work world or if there are other ways to succeed, they are divided (49% each). Three-quarters of adults (75%) think that the state’s higher education system is very important to the quality of life and economic vitality of the state over the next 20 years.

Most Favor Admission Priority for Local Students

Large majorities of adults (77%) say that the state’s public colleges and universities should give priority to local students from their regions of the state when making enrollment decisions. There is bipartisan agreement on this idea (81% Democrats, 80% Republicans, 74% independents). Majorities among racial/ethnic groups are in favor, as are majorities across regions, with support strongest among residents in Orange/San Diego (81%).

An overwhelming majority of Californians (80%) also favor the state making two years of community college tuition free for California students. Most residents (75%) also support the expansion of online certificate and degree programs in community colleges, a move Brown announced earlier this year.

About the Survey

This PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from the College Futures Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,703 California adult residents, including 1,193 interviewed on cell phones telephones and 510 interviewed on landline telephones. Interviews took place from October 27–November 5, 2018. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.5 percent for all adults, ±3.9 percent for the 1,399 registered voters, and ±4.4 percent for the 1,095 likely voters. The sampling error is ±6.2 percent for the 532 respondents who attended a California community college, ±8.5 percent for the 319 who attended a California State University school, and ±10.9 for the 205 who attended a University of California school. For more information on methodology, see page 21.

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.

The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.