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Press Release · April 11, 2016

PPIC Establishes Higher Education Center

SAN FRANCISCO, April 11, 2016—The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) today announced the establishment of a higher education center to help meet the urgent need to improve educational opportunities and enhance economic growth in California.

The PPIC Higher Education Center is being launched with core support from The Sutton Family Fund. The center builds on the successful model of strategic research and engagement that defines all of PPIC’s work.

The center’s creation comes at a time when California faces a shortage of educated workers. PPIC projects that by 2030, the state will fall about 1.1 million college graduates short of economic demand, if current trends persist. Without substantial improvement in college access and graduation rates, California’s economy will be less productive, incomes and tax revenue will be lower, and more Californians will depend on the social safety net.

At the same time, the public believes that higher education confers critical benefits on individuals. In the March PPIC Statewide Survey, an overwhelming majority of Californians said that the state’s public higher education system is very important to California’s future. Nearly six in ten residents said a college education is necessary for a person to be successful in today’s work world.

The PPIC Higher Education Center will identify policies that improve both student success and institutional effectiveness. It will seek out solutions to higher education’s challenges that are practical, evidence-based, and politically feasible. The center’s focus will be on three critical issues:

  • Expanding access. Identifying policies that increase and strengthen pathways to higher education, ensuring that all Californians have the opportunity to earn a college degree.
  • Managing finances. Helping to determine the most effective funding approaches, to keep college affordable and broaden the impact of the state’s higher education investments.
  • Improving outcomes. Promoting strategies that produce more college graduates and prepare Californians—and the state’s economy—to be successful in a changing world.

There is renewed interest in higher education in California, prompted by concerns about affordability and efficiency. Yet change is challenging for a higher education system—the largest in the nation—with separate branches that often do not work together or with the state’s private nonprofit colleges. In the absence of coordinated statewide leadership, PPIC is well-positioned to participate more fully in the policymaking debate.

“For more than a decade, PPIC has laid the groundwork with nonpartisan, high-quality research on the major issues in California higher education,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “The Sutton Family Fund’s generous support enables us to launch this major initiative to help build a more prosperous future for California and its residents.”

In conjunction with the launch of the PPIC Higher Education Center, PPIC released Higher Education in California, a set of short policy briefs on seven key topics, highlighting the opportunities and challenges ahead.

PPIC senior fellow Hans Johnson has been named director of the new center. Johnson has conducted extensive research at PPIC on higher education, with a focus on policies designed to improve college access and completion. He frequently presents his work to policymakers and higher education officials, and he serves as a technical advisor to many organizations seeking to improve college graduation rates, address workforce needs, and engage in long-term capacity planning. He holds a PhD in demography and a master’s degree in biostatistics from the University of California, Berkeley. Johnson will work with a dynamic research team whose expertise ranges from economics to education to political science.

“The key to closing California’s education skills gap is to take action today,” Johnson said. “The state has clear opportunities to set new goals for higher education—goals consistent with the economic demands and demographic realities of the 21st century.”

Marilyn Sutton of The Sutton Family Fund said the higher education center represents her family’s commitment to California’s future.

“Higher education propels economic and social mobility for much of the state’s population. More broadly, it results in a more productive workforce and a more informed electorate,” she said. “The good news is that with the right information and the right policies, the state can forge a path to a more prosperous future.”


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. 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.