In summary

Congress should approve federal funds needed for universities to continue to play a leading role in combating today’s public health emergency.

By Dick Ackerman and

Dick Ackerman is co-chair of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education, dickackerman33@gmail.com. Ackerman is a Republican and a former California state senator and Assemblymember from Orange County.

Mel Levine, Special to CalMatters

Mel Levine is co-chair of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education, MLevine@gibsondunn.com. Levine is a Democrat and a former member of the  U.S. Congress and state Assemblymember from Los Angeles.

From mapping the COVID-19 genome to treating the nation’s first case of community spread of the deadly virus, University of California researchers and physicians have been among the leaders in the global battle against coronavirus.

California State University researchers have  joined the fight as well with their own research initiatives, including developing low-cost ventilators and using artificial intelligence to design a model for predicting COVID-19 patients’ mortality risks to help physicians make informed treatment decisions.

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It’s perhaps no surprise then to find that almost three in four Americans recognize research universities are essential weapons in the war on COVID-19 and in tackling other global challenges, and that more than half believe universities have a positive impact on our country.

As alumni of California’s public higher education system, we call on Congress to recognize Americans’ support for our nation’s universities by approving the federal funds needed for universities to continue to play a leading role in combating today’s public health emergency and in preparing our nation’s future leaders for tomorrow’s challenges. In California, those federal funds are especially important.

The state budget cuts $970 million from UC and CSU budgets. Most of that could be restored with federal coronavirus assistance. CSU Chancellor Timothy White recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the funding and told a House committee that CSU is preparing for a “grim new fiscal reality” in the fall without it.

During the Great Recession, when CSU and UC last faced such grim fiscal realities, the state slashed its investments in UC and CSU by more than a third. This loss in state support led the four-year public universities to double tuition, increase out-of-state enrollment, lay off and furlough staff and defer new construction and maintenance.

CSU and UC don’t have the same capacity to generate that funding now because of COVID-19 restrictions. During the stay-at-home orders, both closed dorms and food service, causing their revenues from those and associated services – such as parking – to plummet.

CSU has already announced it will rely on distance learning for most of its courses in the fall semester, and UC officials have also said most of its courses will be online. Both have reported that distance learning has increased their costs for training and equipment and will continue to reduce their revenues from housing, parking and other on-campus services for students and staff.

To help the state’s public universities and other state programs secure the needed federal assistance, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon issued a joint statement that said “it’s imperative for our federal partners to pass a responsible and comprehensive relief plan so states and local communities can continue to keep Americans safe while leading our national economic recovery.”

We join them in calling on Congress to make these vital investments in our public higher education system. In addition to helping fight a deadly virus, providing federal aid to UC and CSU will assist in the nation’s and the state’s economic recovery from the pandemic’s devastating financial losses.

California accounts for nearly 15% of the nation’s gross domestic product, so its recovery is critical to the nation’s recovery. And the state’s public higher education system is critical to California’s economy: The UC system alone is the state’s third-largest employer and, along with the CSU, contributes more than $60 billion to California’s economy every year.

By acting now to send much-needed federal funds to the state, Congress can hasten our economic recovery and ensure California is ready and able to combat today’s public health emergency and future global challenges.

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Ackerman and Levine have also written about how California’s economic recovery depends on investing in higher education and Prop. 13’s education bond.

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