Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Report · October 2019

Higher Education in California: Investing in Public Higher Education

Hans Johnson, Patrick Murphy, and Kevin Cook

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Sutton Family Fund.

State funding for higher education has increased in recent years. Per student funding for the California Community Colleges (CCC) is at an historic high and the Cal Grant program is larger than ever. But the state’s investment in its public universities remains far lower than in the past. Indeed, California invests less per student (adjusted for inflation) at its public universities than it did 30 years ago. When state contributions dropped dramatically during the Great Recession, the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) increased tuition to make up for lost revenue. These tuition hikes contributed to concerns about college costs. According to a 2018 PPIC Statewide Survey, most Californians (58%) believe that higher education affordability is a big problem for the state.

Some California policymakers have acknowledged that state disinvestment in higher education is partly responsible for rising student costs. At the same time, many higher education leaders are concerned that the current financial model of public higher education is inefficient and unsustainable. Clearly defined goals, greater transparency, and better data systems can help ensure that California’s investments in higher education continue to benefit the state and its residents.

This publication is part of a briefing kit that highlights our state’s most pressing higher education challenges in eight key areas:


Finance Higher Education
Public Policy Institute of California