New Capitol Weekly guest column: “Public higher education: Key to economic vitality”

On June 10, 2021, Capitol Weekly published this column from Dan Chernow, president of the CSU Northridge Alumni Association and executive director of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education – Education Fund and Michael Woo, dean emeritus of the College of Environment Design at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and a California Coalition for Public Higher Education board member, titled, “Public higher education: Key to economic vitality“:

At a time when the United States is seeking to expand economic opportunity and address social inequities, Californians should vigorously support an institution that does both: our public colleges and universities.

The state’s higher education system has long been the envy of the world. The University of California, California State University (CSU) and California Community Colleges provide the critical skills, social mobility and innovation that have helped make California the world’s fifth largest economy. A highly educated workforce is one of the reasons that so many businesses and entrepreneurs continue to locate here.

A recent report calls particular attention to CSU’s massive economic contribution. The report points out that CSU is the largest four-year university system in America, and that its 23 campuses award nearly half of all bachelor’s degrees in the state.

All in all, CSU accounts for almost $27 billion of economic activity and $1.6 billion in state and local taxes.

CSU prepares students for economic participation – it produces more than 100,000 job-ready graduates annually – and spurs entrepreneurial activity throughout the state. Yet it is one of the most affordable public universities in America, and its campuses rank among the best in the nation for value, social mobility and return on investment. For every $1 that it receives from California, CSU generates nearly $7.

The mission of public colleges and universities is becoming more urgent every day.

White-collar workers and knowledge-intensive industries like technology went largely unscathed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But others – such as restaurant and hotel workers – were hit hard.

The Brookings Institute observed that COVID-19 and the associated economic shutdowns “created a crisis for all workers, but the impact was greater for women, non-white workers, lower-wage earners and those with less education.”

The pandemic’s economic fallout has underscored the importance of preparing our young people for a changing economy. Producing skilled workers is critical to America’s future and its ability to secure prosperity and broaden economic opportunity for all, including those who are under-represented.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) has noted that college graduates receive larger wage gains and more benefits than workers without bachelor’s degrees. Indeed, a bachelor’s degree holder in California earns nearly twice as much as a high school graduate does.

California’s colleges and universities teach students how to think, adapt, work together and solve complex problems – skills that are critical in today’s evolving economy. That may be one reason that graduates weather recessions better and benefit more when the economy recovers.

A growing number of industries need highly skilled employees, and many of them are facing talent shortages. California has begun to close the college degree gap but still needs to do more to meet the demand for higher education from students and their parents.

To address this issue, California’s colleges and universities are going to need stable funding from state and federal government.

We’ve made progress, but we need to do more.

The 2021-22 budget proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom would increase higher education spending and includes a promise that tuition and student fees won’t be increased. The state’s public colleges and universities and their students will also benefit from a boost in funding from the American Rescue Plan approved earlier this year.

But their budgets took a big hit during the COVID-19 shutdowns, when they lost income from dining, housing and other on-campus services and experienced increases in costs for new technology to shift to online instruction and other pandemic-related expenses. They also have never fully made up for the funding losses public higher education suffered during the 2008-2012 recession.

Support for our public colleges and universities is a down payment on California’s future, an investment in our economy and the promise of success for people from all walks of life. It is an opportunity we can’t afford to pass up.

Read the op-ed on the Capitol Weekly website.