Stay up to date with the latest news and information on California higher education. Plus, blogs that are unabashedly pro-higher education, offering what you need to know to be a passionate advocate for our colleges and universities.

Letters to the Editor: California has $31 billion extra to spend. Higher education needs a lot of it

On November 22, 2021, the Los Angeles Times published this letter to the editor from Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education:

To the editor: The $31-billion state budget surplus can help make up for the funding losses that California’s public higher education system suffered during the Great Recession. The University of California, California State University and community college systems are economic engines for the state. But they must have more funding to continue to produce the educated workforce that California needs. Despite increased funding in recent years, they’re still behind. The community college system went several years without its fair share of state funds from the spending guidelines set in Proposition 98, and it per-student resources have long been far too low. UC and CSU don’t have dedicated funding streams or constitutional protections. To make up for the damage inflicted by the financial strain on these three systems, we should increase faculty, improve existing facilities and add the new ones needed to house and educate students. Expanding the capacities of UC, CSU and the community colleges will ensure one of our key economic engines keeps propelling our state forward.

Dick Ackerman, Fullerton

Mel Levine, Pacific Palisades

Ackerman is a former Republican leader of the California Senate; Levine is a former Democratic member of Congress. They co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education.

Op-Ed: California Community Colleges deserve more support

On November 15, 2021, CalMatters published this op-ed from Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education, entitled, “California Community Colleges deserve more support“:

California Community Colleges’ roster of former students reads like a “Who’s Who” of public service, economic achievement, social mobility and ethnic diversity.

They include legendary Apple CEO Steve Jobs, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, California’s Chief Justice Tani Catil-Sakauye, NASA engineer Adam Steltzner, author Amy Tan, labor leader Dolores Huerta and Hall of Fame baseball player and civil rights pioneer Jackie Robinson.

While the list of California Community Colleges’ former students is long and illustrious, it doesn’t begin to measure the system’s far-reaching contributions to our state’s economy and its resilience. Community colleges play a pivotal role in training California’s nurses, firefighters, police, welders, auto mechanics, airplane mechanics and construction workers.

They provide an important ladder to four-year institutions, and they team up with industry and labor to create innovative skills-building initiatives that support opportunities in a variety of fields – from automotive technology and advanced manufacturing to health care and web development.

With more than 2.1 million students at 116 campuses, California Community Colleges is the largest system of higher education in the United States. Almost three-quarters of the students come from diverse backgrounds, including traditionally underserved ethnic communities. Those who graduate from community colleges improve their chances of finding good jobs: occupations that typically require associate degrees pay an average annual wage of almost $53,000, compared with $36,100 for workers who don’t make their way past high school.

Despite increased support from the governor and the Legislature, California Community Colleges went several years without its fair share of state funds from Proposition 98, the voter-approved initiative that sets a minimum level of funding for K-12 schools and community colleges. While this year’s budget set records for higher education funding, California Community Colleges’ per-student resources have long been far too low, even as its costs increase, often times faster than inflation, making it more difficult for colleges to even maintain existing programs.

The financial health of the entire public higher education system is critical to our state’s future. At current rates, only about a third of California’s current 9th graders will earn a bachelor’s degree, and lower college completion among Latinx, Black and low-income Californians exacerbates the state’s economic divide.

California Community Colleges are a critical rung in the ladders of success for students from all walks of life. Beginning in high school, community colleges offer students college courses, and the students who enrolled in these classes in high school were more likely to enroll in a college or university after high school: 81% compared to 62% of all California high school students.

Black and Latinx students were less likely to take college courses in high school than Asian and white students, so promoting this opportunity is important to enrollment participation and success among historically underrepresented groups.

For those who attend California Community Colleges, nearly 80,000 transfer to University of California and California State University campuses each year, and nearly 30% of UC graduates and over half of CSU graduates started at a community college. The transfer role is especially important for low-income students, first-generation college students and students from underrepresented groups because they’re more likely to start their higher education journey in a community college.

State leaders have recognized that transfers open the door to bachelor’s degrees for a more diverse population of students, and California Community Colleges are narrowing the achievement gap for students of color in its Vision for Success. It has already met its 2022 goal of a 20% increase in students receiving credentials, and its Vision for Success calls for a 35% increase in students transferring to a UC or CSU campus.

These efforts have won support from lawmakers in Sacramento. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed into law two measures – Assembly Bill 928 and Assembly Bill 1111 – that will encourage more community college students to transfer into four-year institutions.

Now it’s up to state leaders to ensure California Community Colleges continue to have the resources it needs to provide the important rungs in the ladders to success for California students, and that the UC and CSU have the capacity to accept the students seeking to transfer.

Read the op-ed on the CalMatters website.

A Statement From Coalition Co-Chairs Regarding the Passing of Alan Mendelson



We are deeply saddened by the passing of our dear friend and colleague, Alan Mendelson.

Our sincere condolences go out to his family and many friends. For years, Alan was a tireless champion of higher education in California. After earning his bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and his law degree from Harvard Law School, he became one of America’s premier lawyers. He was widely recognized as one of the most respected and experienced lawyers in the life science industry. He also made time to serve his beloved alma mater in numerous ways, including through his service as a Regent of the University of California, President of the Cal Alumni Association, Board Member of UC Berkeley’s College of Chemistry and the UC Berkeley Library, and as a Member of the Chancellor’s External Affairs Committee and Innovation Council.

We’re going to deeply miss Alan’s advice and counsel, his keen intellect, and his sharp sense of humor. Most of all, we will miss his unwavering commitment both to his alma mater and to public higher education. We are dedicated to honoring his legacy by working to further strengthen the best public higher education system in the world.

– Dick Ackerman & Mel Levine, Co-Chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education

New event: Meet the new leaders of UC, CSU and our Community Colleges



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In the LA Times: The UC system needs taxpayers to be more generous and reliable

On August 3, 2021, the Los Angeles Times published this letter to the editor from Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education:

As UC Board of Regents Chairwoman Cecilia Estolano said, the future of the state and nation depend on the University of California system expanding its capacity to educate the great leaders of the future.

Expanding UC capacity requires substantial and sustained state investments in facilities and faculty. But California’s public universities don’t have dedicated funding streams or constitutional protections. The state’s current budget provided substantial increases in funding but cannot make up for all the losses over the past several years.

One-time investments are not enough. Sustained and reliable sources of funding are critical to recruiting the new faculty and adding and improving the facilities needed to expand our public university system’s capacity and ensure a stronger future for our state and nation.

Op-Ed: Burdensome legislation would stall construction at University of California

On July 7, 2021, CalMatters published this op-ed from Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education, titled, “Burdensome legislation would stall construction at University of California“:

Education, infrastructure and economic stimulus are near the top of our nation’s agenda now. But here in California, the Legislature is considering a bill that would discourage progress on all three fronts.

Senate Bill 132 would stop the University of California from moving ahead with badly needed capital improvement projects unless the university submits to a costly and cumbersome annual certification process sought by one public employee union.

There’s a lot at stake.

California’s renowned UC system is an economic powerhouse widely credited for spurring progress, innovation and opportunity.

Faced with the need to support growing enrollment, additional student housing, earthquake safety improvements, deferred maintenance, health care and much more, UC is planning to make billions of dollars in capital improvements — all of which will help boost California’s economy as it recovers from the pandemic recession. At UC medical centers alone — the institutions responsible for many of our state’s medical advances — the estimated cost for capital projects over the next 10 years is $13.7 billion.

Californians throughout the state would benefit from these improvements, as well as from the high-paying jobs created in the construction and materials industries. Yet the bill’s proponents seem willing to put these benefits on hold — or at least delay them substantially — to protect the special interests of a few.

Their bill would withhold funds for all construction and capital improvements each year until a lengthy audit can certify that no contracted support service labor is – or ever was – employed across most UC capital projects, with no exceptions, even for emergencies or other unexpected circumstances.

Such legislation should never have made it out of committee. But it is a budget “trailer bill,” which is legislation drafted after the state budget’s approval without any meaningful public notice or debate.

This legislation is simply unnecessary. Senate Bill 820, which was signed into law just last year, requires the university to certify each year that UC has not contracted out any portion of work that is traditionally performed by people represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The law applies to certain university facilities built after 2017.

Instead of giving SB 820 a chance to work, proponents of SB 132 want to impose a brand-new set of requirements. They would expand certification requirements to include all capital expenditures, even those secured without state support, such as grants, private gifts and campus and hospital funds.

UC would have to provide a complete certification of direct employment for all service work as a condition of being allowed to encumber funds for any of the university’s new or ongoing capital projects. That means critical seismic or life safety improvements and student housing projects could be halted every year for months at a time while awaiting the audit.

UC also would have to provide a look-back — or retrospective certification — of direct employment since the year in which each UC site benefited from an allocation of public funds. This would require an independent audit and certification that includes the names, hours worked and start and end dates for each contract worker.

The audit would tie up UC projects in red tape and delay much-needed construction projects, leading to increased costs, more deferred maintenance and less earthquake safety on campuses.

The trailer bill singles out UC. That’s unfair — and ironic — because the UC system is the state’s third largest employer, directly employing about 229,000 full- and part-time faculty and staff. As we emerge from the pandemic, UC’s role in our economic recovery continues to be vital: UC-related spending and activities support more than 529,000 jobs. That’s 2% of California’s total jobs, or 1 in 45 jobs in the state.

No wonder California’s building trade unions have joined UC and the California Coalition for Public Higher Education in opposing SB 132. The bill would discourage economic activity, postpone needed improvements and compromise the university’s ability to train and prepare students. We urge the Legislature to reject it.

New letter to the editor: “CSUN gets $40M donation, the largest in school history”

On June 20 and 21, 2021, Southern California News Group published this letter to the editor from Dan Chernow, president of the CSU Northridge Alumni Association and executive director of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education – Education Fund in response to their article, “CSUN gets $40M donation, the largest in school history”:

MacKenzie Scott’s incredibly generous donations to 12 CSU campuses and the California Community Colleges speaks to their vital role in preparing all 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.

As CSU Northridge Alumni Association president and California Coalition for Public Higher Education education executive director, I wish to express appreciation and thanks for recognizing the role public higher education plays in pursuing social justice.

I also wish to remind our lawmakers that continued financial support is needed for all the state’s public higher education institutions. While the budget the legislature approved this week also helps to close the gap, sustained support is needed to fulfill the promise of success that public higher education holds for people from all walks of life.

Read the letter to the editor on the Daily News website.

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.

Response to guest column: More funding for higher ed, not a new Master Plan

On May 6, 2021, CalMatters published this response from Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education, to the guest column titled, “California needs a new Master Plan for Higher Education“:

California’s public higher education institutions do need more funding. But Nils Gilman’s financing plan would “rob Peter to pay Paul” by taking all state funding from the UC system to make up for inadequate state funding for the CSU and CCC systems.

His plan would require big UC tuition increases, which would limit access to just the wealthiest students and those students who would qualify for scholarships. At a time when California and the country are seeking to expand economic opportunities and address social inequities, we should vigorously support funding to increase, rather than limit, access to all our public colleges and universities.

As California Coalition for Public Higher Education co-chairs, we believe that support for the University of California, California State University and California Community College systems is an investment in their promise of success for people from all walks of life and in a strong future for our state’s economy.

New op-ed: California’s public higher ed system shaping nation’s leaders

On April 16, 2021, CalMatters published an op-ed from Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education, titled, “California’s public higher ed system shaping nation’s leaders“:

The election of Vice President Kamala Harris and the appointment of several Californians to top posts in the new administration signal not only the state’s renewed clout in the nation’s capital but also the influential role our world-class public higher education system plays in shaping leaders and expanding diversity at the upper echelons of government.

Harris, a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law, is the nation’s first woman, first person of color and first UC-affiliated person to ever hold the vice presidency. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, a UC Berkeley professor emeritus, is the first woman to hold that powerful position, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas graduated from UC Berkeley and is the first Latino and immigrant leader of the Department of Homeland Security.

These appointments and others underscore how California’s public higher education system creates strong and diverse leaders and helps combat economic and social inequities. But leaders at UC, California State University  and California Community Colleges recognize they need to do more to increase diversity among faculty, staff and the student population. Each is moving forward with initiatives to achieve these goals, and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal to increase funding for these initiatives deserves the Legislature’s support.

Among these initiatives, California Community Colleges, the state’s primary entry point into collegiate degree programs, has already met its 2022 goal of a 20% increase in students receiving credentials, and it is narrowing the achievement gap for students of color. California Community Colleges also is increasing flexibility in its courses, credit and support to meet the needs of an older and increasingly diverse student population. And it’s working to help struggling students secure housing and food, so they can focus on learning and reaching their goals.

CSU Board of Trustees and UC Board of Regents have developed multi-year plans to eliminate achievement gaps, with CSU seeking to eliminate gaps by 2025 and UC by 2030. Graduation rates at CSU, one of the nation’s largest and most diverse public universities, are at an all-time high, granting 62% of all bachelor’s degrees earned by California’s Latinx students and 47% of all bachelor’s degrees earned by the state’s Black students.

The governor’s budget proposal would continue these gains by providing state funding to CCC, CSU and UC to help close equity gaps, promote completion, fuel innovation and support students’ upward economic mobility. A recent agreement with legislative leaders would also restore previously enacted reductions, effective July 1, for UC and CSU. And the governor’s proposal assumes no increase in tuition and fees in 2021-22.

While the budget proposal won’t make up for all the funding losses over the past several years at the state’s colleges and universities, it will help them continue to provide the ladders to success for students from backgrounds and train the diverse leaders we need.

Over the past year, the U.S. has faced a long overdue reckoning of the racial and economic divides that persist in our nation. This moment in time demands urgent action to achieve equity in higher education to give students from all walks of life equal access and opportunities. Now is not the time to falter or fail. Now is the time to invest in all our young people.


Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine have also written about how public universities and colleges can serve as economic engines, how the state’s economic recovery depends on investing in California higher education and how federal investments are needed for the state’s higher education system in the fight against COVID-19.