Governor’s higher-ed plan offers a major breakthrough

Students at graduation ceremonies, Santa Monica City College. (Photo: Joseph Sohm, via Shutterstock)

Gov. Newsom proposed one of the most consequential higher education policies this year: a 70 percent college attainment goal by 2030 and multi-year investment compacts with the California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) to collectively grow enrollment over the next five years by 21,000 new seats while closing racial equity gaps in enrollment and completion.

The fate of the proposal is now in the hands of the Legislature.

The demand for a college degree in California has never been higher. The UC recently announced that, for a second year in a row, application rates shattered previous records, with 211,000 students applying to pursue their college dreams at California’s premier universities.

It is estimated that by 2030, about 144,000 qualified students per year will be turned away from California’s four-year institutions…

This should be great news for California, since our economic standing as the fifth largest economy in the world depends on the state’s ability to continue cultivating and harnessing the next generation of talent, and our public universities play a critical role in preparing that future workforce.

Unfortunately, too many of these students will be turned away and their college dreams deferred, due to the limited seats available within the UC and CSU systems.

Over the past decade, a growing number of Californians graduated from high school prepared to enter our state’s UC and CSU campuses, but were denied the opportunity as a direct result of capacity shortfalls within California’s four-year universities.

Despite the Legislature’s steady investments in increasing enrollment over the last five years, the problem is only getting worse; it is estimated that by 2030, about 144,000 qualified students per year will be turned away from California’s four-year institutions, unless the state significantly increases the number of seats available at our UC and CSU campuses.

The costs to California for not educating talented and qualified students are high.

Consider the state’s return for higher education: for every $1 invested in higher education, California receives $4.50 in return, some in the form of savings from social service costs, but the bulk in the form of increased tax revenues from college graduates who earn higher incomes. Investing in more seats at the UC and CSU is a long-term strategy and investment for a stable and growing middle class that helps California’s economy thrive.

Black and Latinx Californians stand to gain the most from Gov. Newsom’s plan, two groups substantially underrepresented at the state’s most selective campuses.  Over the past decade more Latinx and Black eligible students in California have been denied entry to the state’s top universities due to capacity constraints, despite having worked hard to be eligible and competitive for these campuses. Although Latinx students make up 52 percent of graduating high school seniors and are applying to the UC in record numbers, they only account for 25 percent of the UC student body. Meanwhile, Black students accounted for only 3 percent of the undergraduate students enrolled at the UC.

California is, and has been, without a north star for higher education and every budget cycle, we are reminded of that as the governor and Legislature work through short-term plans for university enrollment that have yet to meet our capacity and racial inequity challenges. We have a governor who has put forward a bold attainment goal, foundational investments, and a directive to close racial equity gaps and now we need a legislature that will support this plan.

State lawmakers demonstrated strong leadership by taking urgent and unprecedented action to find a legislative solution to a court-ordered enrollment freeze at UC Berkeley, and we encourage them to meet this moment with the same resolve.

Editor’s Note: Michele Siqueiros has been the driving force behind the Campaign for College Opportunity, a California-based nonprofit committed to ensuring more students can go to college and succeed.

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