We must let more California students into public universities’ front door

By Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, Special to CALmatters

Unethical and even criminal tactics used to slide students into prestigious universities cannot be tolerated. But there’s something else we should not tolerate: the insufficient higher education capacity to meet student demand in California.

In this decade, the number of California high school graduates eligible for admission to the University of California and California State University system has increased by more than 25%.

Applications are up 24% at UC and 18% at Cal State campuses.

In 2017, CSU was forced to deny admission to 30,000 eligible students. Far fewer than half the eligible applicants for UC admission are accepted and at some campuses, fewer than 15% of applicants are admitted.

The major factor in this shortfall in capacity is that the state has failed to adequately invest in higher education.

Despite budget surpluses and recent increases in state spending on higher education, per student funding for the University of California by the state is more than 30% lower than it was two decades ago. Tuition and fees exceed state dollars as a source of funding for UC’s core educational expenses.

The situation has begun to improve. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s initial 2019-20 budget proposal calls for $1 billion combined increases for UC, CSU and the community colleges. The governor has wisely embraced the CSU budget request that will allow the system to expand enrollment and improve graduation rates.

But while Gov. Newsom’s January budget plan calls for a significant boost for the University of California, it falls about $200 million short of what is needed. In the past five years, UC has enrolled almost 5,000 additional students without the state paying any of its share for their costs.

The University of California has embarked on a drive to award 200,000 more degrees by 2030.

To accommodate student growth, all three segments of our higher education system must have additional funding for faculty, facilities, and student services and aid.

The state must step up its funding.

The Golden State’s best in the world public higher education system is a big factor in California’s emergence as the world’s fifth largest economy. That economy depends on a highly educated workforce.  But more than a million more college graduates will be required to meet our workforce needs.

Higher education isn’t just about the economy.  Where it really matters is for the young men and women whose opportunities are dependent on higher education. Diversity on our campuses is noteworthy. Many students are the first in their family to attend college.

Fraud and favoritism in college admissions are, of course, unacceptable. But we also can’t accept that worthy students are denied admission because the state isn’t doing its part.

Dick Ackerman, [email protected], and Mel Levine, [email protected], co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman is a former California legislator representing Orange County. Levine is a former member of Congress from Los Angeles. They wrote this commentary for CALmatters. See their past CALmatters commentary here.


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