This op-ed was written by California Competes Council Members Carol Liu and Roger Niello and originally appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News on December 18, 2017.
For Californians, a college education is paradoxically growing more important and more unattainable. When we were high school seniors, if we had done our work, we knew we would have a spot at a state college or university after graduation. California’s students and families operated under the premise that there would be room for us all in a system that provided for some of the most massive economic advances in human history. Today that trust is eroding. A system once venerated for its broad access and affordability is drifting away from ensuring educational opportunities for all qualified high school graduates and fortifying our state’s economy.
Why is public trust for higher education eroding in California? Too many qualified California students are being turned away from admission to the public university of their choice. CSU estimates that between 2005 and 2015, nearly 80,000 qualified students were turned away due to lack of funding. Further, tuition and other costs of attendance (including housing, food, and supplies) are increasing. In short, California’s promises to its residents around access and affordability — stated in its Master Plan for Higher Education — are being broken. Once trust is lost, the public may never be as willing to invest in California’s higher education system. From our perspectives as former legislators, and as an educator and a businessperson, winning back the public’s trust and restoring California’s higher education system as a route to opportunity and a resource that drives our economy requires individual, institutional, and statewide solutions.