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Fact Sheet

Financing California’s Public Schools

By Julien Lafortune

K–12 funding has been at record-high levels in recent years, and California’s per student spending is now slightly above the national average. Spending is higher for low-income students, English Learners, and foster youth. However, enrollment declines, rising costs, and the expiration of pandemic funding pose fiscal challenges for school districts.

Report

Understanding the Effects of School Funding

By Julien Lafortune

Funding for California’s K–12 public schools has reached record highs, but gaps in student outcomes remain. Understanding the benefits of additional funds, and how to distribute those funds, are key concerns for policymakers. This report offers insights from a robust body of research on the extent to which higher spending improves outcomes.

blog post

Helping K–12 Students Recover from the Pandemic

By Laura Hill, Niu Gao, Julien Lafortune

Increased state and federal resources will play a key role as California helps students overcome learning disruptions of the past two years, though longer-term challenges remain.

Report

Expanding Enrollment Capacity at California State University

By Kevin Cook, Radhika Mehlotra

Financial constraints threaten CSU’s ability to meet the growing demand for higher education. As the governor and state policymakers contend with limited resources, prioritizing enrollment growth and capital planning at CSU will be vital to the state’s economic future.

Report

Measuring Institutional Costs at California’s Public Universities

By Patrick Murphy, Kevin Cook, Talib Jabbar

California has recently increased its investment in higher education after many years of reducing state support. At the same time, the state’s four-year public systems, the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU), are currently poised to raise tuition for the first time in several years. If the past is any indication, intense discussions lie ahead about the need for additional higher education resources.

We offer a constructive starting point for those discussions by introducing a straightforward and objective assessment of institutional costs. We rely on a measure that connects institutional costs to the number of degrees UC and CSU produce. This measure provides a clear understanding of trends in California’s institutional costs and allows comparisons with colleges and universities in other states. It also offers higher education institutions the opportunity to demonstrate progress toward their goals in an accessible, transparent way.

Applying this measure to California’s public four-year institutions, we find that:

  • Institutional costs per degree across UC and CSU fell significantly—17 percent—from 1987 to 2013. This is an important savings in a state that will need to amp up its number of college graduates to meet future economic demand.
  • At UC, the cost per degree fell 6 percent over the period—from $116,000 to $109,000. UC’s institutional costs in 2013 were lower than a comparison group that included both public and private institutions across the nation. But UC’s costs were higher than a national comparison group of public schools only.
  • At CSU, the cost fell 33 percent—from $67,000 to $45,000. CSU’s 2013 costs were lower than both types of comparison groups—one that included public schools only and one that included both public and private institutions.

We recommend that policymakers and higher education leaders use the cost per degree measure as a way to frame higher education finance discussions. It provides a consistent, reliable, and objective measure of institutional costs and performance. For the measure to be most effective, accurate data reporting will be essential. We also recommend the reintroduction of a state-level higher education authority to add validity to the process of gauging institutional performance. Using the measure within a larger framework of agreed-upon goals would go a long way toward improving higher education finance policy in California.

Report

Improving College Graduation Rates: A Closer Look at California State University

By Kevin Cook, Jacob Jackson

Low college graduation rates come at a high cost—lower salaries, lower tax revenue, and fewer college graduates in the workforce. At California State University (CSU), the nation's largest university system, graduation rates have an outsized financial and economic impact on students and the state.

CSU has made strides in improving graduation rates, but there is more work to be done. The system continues to struggle with graduation gaps—underrepresented students are much less likely to complete their degree compared to their peers, and these gaps have not narrowed over time. Also, CSU's on-time (four-year) graduation rates still lag behind those of similar universities nationwide.

By 2025, CSU aims to further increase graduation rates while cutting graduation gaps in half. To assist campus planning for this goal, we identify several promising programs and policies. More broadly, the CSU Chancellor's Office must work with campuses to evaluate and expand successful efforts, and the state must play a role in supporting new policies to move the needle on graduation gaps and on-time graduation.

blog post

Paying for Higher Education

By Linda Strean

Understanding the cost of public higher education has become more critical than ever. At a panel discussion in Sacramento, experts critiqued the way California finances colleges now and offered their own solutions.

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