Blog: Sharing NEWS & PERSPECTIVES

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.

Op-Ed: Proposed constitutional amendment would put public health and safety at risk

On August 20, 2019, CalMatters published an op-ed from Dr. J. Douglas Kirk, chief medical officer for UC Davis Health, and California Coalition for Public Higher Education Co-Chair Mel Levine, titled, “Proposed constitutional amendment would put public health and safety at risk.” Here’s an excerpt:

The University of California has joined with the California Coalition for Public Higher Education to oppose Assembly Constitutional Amendment 14. This costly and crippling constitutional amendment would prohibit UC from entering into contracts for these contingency workers who provide a wide array of support and clinical services.

Public employee unions are championing ACA 14, and both of us have worked collaboratively with labor. But when a constitutional change is proposed that could put the public’s health and safety at risk, we need to speak out.

UC hospitals treat higher percentages of very sick patients than other California hospitals. With five nationally ranked academic medical centers and 18 health professional schools, UC Health trains nearly half of all of California’s medical students and medical residents. UC medical centers are public safety net hospitals that must keep their doors open to all patients.

But the restrictions established by ACA 14 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, San Diego Democrat, would prevent UC hospitals from being able to obtain the trained staff they need on short notice to serve these patients–many of whom require highly complex care.

This flexibility is critical to manage unforeseen changes in hospital census, patient acuity, employee absenteeism and unanticipated increases in patient volumes arriving to our emergency departments as a result of multi-casualty trauma incidents or other environmental factors.

A staffing shortage in any area of the hospital can quickly cascade into others. For instance, a housekeeping shortage means hospital rooms aren’t clean and ready for incoming patients. Those patients take up beds in the emergency department while they wait, and that can lead to further overcrowding, delays in treatment and poor patient outcomes.

The op-ed concludes:

ACA 14 is scheduled for a Senate committee vote on Aug. 20, which could send it to the full Senate for a vote to place it on the statewide ballot. We urge legislators to say no to this costly and crippling measure.

Read the complete op-ed on the CalMatters website.

Op-ed from our co-chairs: State’s audit of California State University misguided, mistaken

On June 29, 2019, the San Francisco Chronicle published an op-ed from Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education, titled, “State’s audit of California State University misguided, mistaken”:

The California State University is the nation’s largest four-year public university system. It produces more than half the state’s bachelor’s degrees, sending 126,000 job-ready graduates into the workforce annually. It has the most ethnically, economically and academically diverse student body in the nation.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of having a world-class higher education system to spark the industries that make California’s economy one of the largest and most vibrant in the world.

To ensure it fulfills its vital role in educating the state’s workforce, CSU has prudently managed public funds to protect taxpayers, students and their families.

It has maintained a reserve, or “rainy day” fund — just as many families and the state of California do — to cover one-time costs. Among the uses for the reserves are funding for new construction and maintenance, bridge funding from one fiscal year to the next, and advances on financial aid to students during the periods before the state and federal governments fund their grants.

Public Policy Institute of California, an independent nonprofit research institution, recently praised this “prudent saving strategy.” It also commended CSU for its accountability and transparency in the creation of an online Financial Transparency Portal where the public can see five years of revenues and expenses.

In this context, the California State Auditor’s recent audit of CSU is both misguided and mistaken. The Auditor is criticizing the system’s management of both reserve funds and reporting practices. CSU had $7.7 billion operating expenses in 2018 and had set aside a $1.5 billion reserve. This sum is equal to about 2.4 months in operating reserves — or less than half the five months the experts say CSU should have.

Yet the audit mistakenly describes these as “discretionary surplus” funds, implying there’s no immediate need for these sums of money. In reality, there is.

Moreover, reserve funds provide insurance to protect students, faculty and the university from another economic downturn. CSU’s budget was slashed by nearly $1 billion during the Great Recession, so suggesting reserve funds be used for ongoing expenses is simply irresponsible.

The audit’s other claim is that CSU failed to fully inform students and lawmakers about its reserves. This overlooks more than 30 public reports that included information about these funds. These reports include a presentation on this very topic to CSU’s Board of Trustees in September 2017 — a presentation which was attended by Gov. Gavin Newsom, legislative staff, students, faculty, and staff leaders.

The audit did find that CSU properly safeguarded its reserve funds and properly stewarded financial resources.

But the audit is misguided in its underlying approach to university funds, especially when it criticizes CSU for maintaining “outside accounts.”

CSU is like dozens of state agencies holding money outside the state treasury. In fact, the education code requires CSU to deposit revenues from tuition and other student fees into bank accounts held in trust.

All educational institutions must set aside funds to cover delayed payments and reimbursements from state and federal governments. They need adequate cash flow to cover costs, such as payments to retirement and health accounts for their employees. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.

CSU has been responsible. It has advocated for more investment in public higher education, while holding certain funds in reserve and in plain sight to protect students, their families, faculty and staff from the inevitable “rainy day” of another economic downturn.

Read the op-ed on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website.

Does CSU have lots of money saved in reserves? Yes, and it’s never been a secret

On July 2, 2019, The Sacramento Bee published an op-ed from Timothy P. White, chancellor of the California State University, titled, “Does CSU have lots of money saved in reserves? Yes, and it’s never been a secret.” Here’s an excerpt:

The claim that California State University has a secret stockpile of surplus funds in outside accounts is a sensationalistic take on common – and responsible – fiscal practices. It is wrong to characterize designated operating reserves as “secretive massive funds.”

The audit verified that CSU follows the technical reporting procedures dictated by the Department of Finance, the State Controller’s Office and the State Treasurer’s Office. Governmental fund reports can be hard to interpret for some people. But information pertaining to CSU’s finances, including money invested by the CSU, has always been accessible by the public, including on our Financial Transparency Portal.

Unfortunately, the recent audit failed to mention that more than 30 public reports published by CSU – during the 10-year audit period – included detailed information about investment balances and net assets, including what the report refers to as “surpluses.”
Moreover, this report failed to include letters to state legislators in 2017 and 2018 that addressed balances in state funds invested outside the state Treasury. CSU is legally required to deposit revenue from tuition and other student fees into bank accounts held in trust – what the auditor calls “outside accounts.”

The op-ed continues:

Information about money CSU invests outside of the state Treasury are reported during CSU Trustees’ meetings. These public meetings are streamed live, and then are archived and accessible on the CSU website. In fact, during a September 2017 CSU Board of Trustees’ meeting, a specific presentation was devoted to the topic of reserves. Gov. Gavin Newsom, other legislative staff, students, faculty and staff leaders were all in attendance at the meeting.

There’s still one key point that was buried by the media headlines: Nowhere did the audit report find that the CSU misused funds or that our strategy to build a prudent reserve was not appropriate.

Ironically, this audit report was made public a week after the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) issued a report, “CSU’s Prudent Saving Strategy,” concluding that “building operating reserves is key to preserving access and maintaining strong student access during the next recession.” The PPIC also recognized the CSU’s new online Financial Transparency Portal as an important step in “making important information available to public officials and the attentive public” about the allocation of resources and the CSU’s reserve strategy.

Read the complete op-ed on The Sacramento Bee’s website.

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

On April 11, 2019, CALmatters published an op-ed from Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education, titled, “We must let more California students into public universities’ front door.” Here’s an excerpt:

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.

Read the complete op-ed on the CALmatters website.

Higher Education Funding Momentum Must Continue

On March 15, 2019, Fox & Hounds published an op-ed from Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education, titled, “Higher Education Funding Momentum Must Continue.” Here’s an excerpt:

The decisions by the University of California and California State University to hold the line on tuition increases in the Fall are welcome news, provided that Governor Gavin Newsom and the Legislature follow through with robust increases in State funding for UC, CSU and our community colleges. Otherwise, educational quality will suffer and thousands of deserving students will be turned away.

It used to be that tuition was not a factor at the University as the State wisely underwrote the cost of education. That changed as the State began decades on a fiscal roller-coaster that produced boom and bust Budgets. In the process, much of the cost of college funding at both UC and California State University were shifted to students and their families in the form of tuition and fees. Today, per student State funding for UC is less than half of what it was in 1980-81 and tuition has risen accordingly, even as the system has become more efficient and cost effective.

Fortunately, State higher education funding has edged up in recent years and Governor Newsom’s first budget proposal in January represents a significant recommitment to investment in our higher education system. The Governor’s January blueprint calls for $1.4 billion in added support for UC, CSU and the community colleges. Still the boost of $240 million in operating support for UC is barely half what the University needs. The Governor’s January Budget proposal does cover CSU costs as projected.

The op-ed continues:

The increases in State higher education funding over the past few years have been a positive sign, but they have been accompanied by mandates to enroll more California students without the dollars to accommodate those additional students. That isn’t sustainable.

Read the complete op-ed on the Fox & Hounds website.

Op-Ed from Our Co-Chairs: Governor’s Higher Education Funding Proposal Off to a Good Start

On Jan. 22, 2019, Fox & Hounds published an op-ed from Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education, titled, “Governor’s Higher Education Funding Proposal Off to a Good Start.” Here’s an excerpt:

Governor Gavin Newsom’s first Budget proposal has a good deal of hopeful news for higher education. Now, the devil will be in the details and in committing to ongoing funding, rather that the cyclical ups and downs that have undermined the University of California, California State University and our community colleges over the past several decades.

It is heartening that Governor Newsom has once again made higher education a State priority. The initial 2019-20 Budget proposal unveiled by the Governor includes more than a billion dollars in additional funding for the three sectors combined. This marks the most substantial higher education funding boost in more than a decade.

The University of California will receive an additional $240 million in operating funds—a 6.9% increase—plus a one-time outlay of $153 million, primarily for maintenance. CSU will receive an additional $318 million in operating funds—an 8% increase—plus a one-time allocation of $264 million. Community colleges will be getting an additional $401 million and the Governor is proposing that the State cover two-full years of free community college. This is all good news, but it is only a start. Public higher education is still recovering from years of underfunding by the State with much of the cost burden being shifted to students and their families.

The article concludes:

More State funding is critical for UC, CSU and the community colleges. It is also essential that State Budget allocations be ongoing and predictable. Too often, higher education has borne the brunt of dips in State revenue and its boom and bust fiscal rollercoaster. It has been too easy for decision-makers in Sacramento to sacrifice higher education funding whenever there is a Budget shortfall. That’s why per student State funding is still only fraction of what it was thirty years ago. Higher education fuels California’s good times and provides the essentials of productivity and innovation that enable us to reverse the bad times.

Governor Newsom deserves credit for a great start for higher education in his first Budget proposal. Now, the Governor and Legislature can roll up their sleeves to fill in the gaps and make sure that our outstanding higher education system has the resources needed for it to continue as the finest in the world.

Read the complete op-ed on the Fox & Hounds website.

Higher Education Coalition Leaders Laud Newsom Budget Proposal

Newly elected Governor Gavin Newsom has released his initial Budget proposal for the 2019-20 fiscal year.  Higher ed fared better in the Newsom proposal than it did in previous years.

Budget Response from Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine—Co-chairs California Coalition for Public Higher Education:

“Governor Newsom should be congratulated for a constructive 2019-2020 Budget proposal that restores higher education as a State priority,” commented Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education.  “The University of California, California State University and our community colleges will have additional resources to maintain quality, expand access and ease the cost burden on students and their families.”

All three segments of the public higher education system will receive additional funds:

* The University of California will receive a $240 million increase (6.9%) in operating funds, plus an additional one-time outlay of $153 million, primarily for deferred maintenance.

* California State University will receive a $318 million increase (8%) for operations plus a one-time allocation of $264 million.

* California community colleges are slated to receive an added $401 million. The State would now cover two full years of free community college.

Op-Ed: Higher ed is a prerequisite for our future. Community colleges are key to that.

On Jan. 2, 2019, CALmatters published an op-ed by Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges and a regent of the University of California,  titled, “Higher ed is a prerequisite for our future. Community colleges are key to that.” Here’s an excerpt:

The entire education system and especially post-secondary education is charged with the monumental task of producing educated people who are informed, up to date, trained and enthusiastic about being part of the thriving whole. To be successful, a long-term view incorporating visionary, inclusive initiatives to improve higher education in California is required.

In other words, we must think big and be unapologetically bold.

California has significant challenges in workforce readiness, equity and poverty. But we start our next four-year chapter with a new governor, new education leaders and opportunities to improve education across the board and put in place ways to open the doors to higher education for all.

Data supporting the need to start this chapter with bold moves to improve California higher education is on the brink of being overwhelming. Not only is the country facing a skilled workforce shortage, but the future job market will require that more than 65 percent of workers possess a college degree or credential by 2020.

Such daunting realities clearly demand solutions that accommodate college-ready high schoolers, returning veterans and workers who need enhanced skills for economic mobility.

Keeping ahead of poverty is yet another proof point in the case for improving higher education in California, the state with 7.4 million people living in poverty.

The op-ed concludes:

All of these factors make it clear higher education is the lynchpin to our future. Now, as we enter a new era of leadership, we have a chance to be bold with solutions to ensure that the future is bright for Californians and the state economy alike.

Read the complete op-ed on the CALmatters website.

New op-ed: How Newsom could create a new golden era for higher education

On Dec. 7, 2018, CALMatters published an op-ed from Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine, co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education, titled, “How Newsom could create a new golden era for higher education.” Here’s an excerpt:

Pat Brown was a true champion of higher education, but Jerry Brown has never made support for the University of California or the Cal State system a big part of his agenda.

Now, incoming Gov. Gavin Newsom has the potential to pick up the mantle and, once again, make higher education a top state priority.

Californians get it.  A new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found that most voters say that there is not enough state funding for higher education.  Three-quarters of the electorate believes that higher education should be a high priority for our new governor.

Newsom has said that a significant increase in the investment in higher education is high on his agenda. With the state’s fiscal health in good shape, that should be possible.

The article concludes:

Boosting higher education funding would be a good start. But the new governor should address the future of our public higher education system and its integral role in the well-being of all Californians.

There is much to be done:

* Restore per-student state funding to traditional levels.

* Assure a stable, ongoing revenue flow from the state that will enable our higher education institutions to plan and grow responsibly.

* Make a long-term commitment for new classrooms, laboratories, faculty offices, technology and other infrastructure needs that will reverse years of neglect and provide state of the art facilities on our campuses.

* Harness new technology to enhance the educational experience, increase productivity and provide additional avenues for more Californians to access our higher education system.

If Gov. Newsom and Legislature, in concert with the leadership of UC, CSU and the community colleges—seriously tackle these challenges, the Newsom years could become a new golden age for California higher education.

Read the complete op-ed on the CALMatters website.

Californians want more funding for public higher education [videos]

Following the Nov. 14, 2018, release of a new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, which found most Californians believe higher education should be a top priority for the new governor, PPIC researcher Lunna Lopes outlined key findings in Sacramento.

The following day in San Francisco, PPIC president Mark Baldassare and Monica Lozano, president of the College Futures Foundation, talked about the survey’s implications for governor-elect Gavin Newsom.