State Focuses on Higher Education to Ensure Future Economic Success

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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stressed the importance of California's colleges and universities and pledged to increase their funding during a meeting with the state's higher education leaders Tuesday morning in the Capitol building.

Attendees, including UC President Mark Yudof, highlighted a recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California that stresses increasing in-state enrollment and graduation rates to meet the needs of the state's future economy.

The discussion coincided with the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the California Master Plan for Higher Education-the state law that outlined the roles of and set goals for the University of California, California State University and community college systems.

"I can't imagine anything more important to the future of this state and this country than this topic," said Bonnie Reiss, California secretary of education and UC Regent, at the opening of the meeting.

According to the report, "Higher Education in California," the state will have one million fewer college-educated workers than will be needed by the year 2025 unless the state is able to "substantially increase rates of college enrollment and graduation."

The report presents three recommended modifications to the Master Plan, including raising the percentage of in-state high school students eligible for enrollment in the UC and CSU systems, increasing the amount of transfers into the UC and CSU systems and formally emphasizing the improvement of graduation rates.

However, some at the meeting urged that these recommendations be implemented with caution in order to maintain the quality of the systems.

"We don't just want degree-cranking organizations," said CSU Chancellor Charles Reed. "We want degrees that mean something."

According to the report, raising enrollment would increase equity in California's public higher education system by serving more underrepresented groups at the state's colleges and universities.

The report also states that realizing these recommendations would require higher levels of funding than currently exist, a condition the report called "a tall order in today's fiscal climate."

However, during the meeting, Schwarzenegger pledged his commitment to maintaining the funding levels for higher education outlined in his proposed state budget for 2010-11.

"In the private meetings we have just had with our education leaders I have made it very clear I will not sign a budget unless (higher education) funds are there," he said.

Schwarzenegger's proposed budget restores around $370 million in funding for the UC system, though it cuts $45 million from the Cal Grant program.

Both the report and those in attendance of the meeting characterized the current set of decisions and obstacles facing higher education in California as especially crucial.

"California is at another critical juncture with respect to higher education, particularly in terms of the workforce skills gap and the state's troubled budget," the report states.

The governor's chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, expressed similar sentiments.

"This is the year when we will decide whether or not we're going to preserve the most valuable core of the system and chart a path for the future of the system, or whether we're just going to get through the crisis of the day," she said.

With the May revision of the state budget approaching and a projected increase in state revenues, Schwarzenegger was optimistic that despite the current challenges, the needs of California's higher education system can be met.

"I see light at the end of the tunnel," he said at the close of the meeting.


Contact Shaunt Attarian at [email protected]

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