CA gov. seeks to boost colleges’ funding—provided they close equity gaps

California Governor Gavin Newsom this week released a 2022-23 budget proposal that includes $39.6 billion for higher education and ties the increased funding to specific affordability, equity, and completion targets. The goals include reducing total cost of attendance, shortening time-to-degree completion, facilitating transfers, eliminating racial and socioeconomic disparities in graduation rates, and increasing faculty diversity.

While California likely won’t finalize its budget until this summer, the proposal alone is a crucial indicator of public colleges’ trajectory in the nation’s most populus state. Cal State’s 23 campuses enroll more than 477,000 students, while UC serves approximately 290,000 students at its 10 campuses, and another 500,000 students in continuing education programs. Serving 1.8 million students annually, California Community Colleges (CCCs) enroll 25 percent of the nation’s community college students.

Experts interviewed by Higher Ed Dive said that while other states have recently proposed increasing education funding, California has the “boldest” ambition.

UC, Cal State ‘compacts’ take aim at achievement gaps

Under the proposal, the University of California (UC) and California State University systems would see a 5 percent annual increase in base funding through 2026-27.

In its list of targets, the proposal outlines aggressive timelines for UC and Cal State to close gaps in graduation rates between underrepresented populations—including Black, Latinx, Native American, low-income, and first-generation students—and peers from other socioeconomic and racial groups.

Newsom calls on UC to halve achievement gaps by 2025-26 and to eliminate them by 2030. He asks Cal State to eliminate them by 2025. Hitting those goals “could prove a heavy lift,” the Los Angeles Times writes, especially during a pandemic that has exacerbated disparities.

CCCs focused on completion, workforce needs, transfers

The state’s 116-campus community college system, meanwhile, would receive a $1.6 billion funding infusion. Like other community colleges, CCCs have experienced significant enrollment declines across the last two years, the Los Angeles Times writes, noting that the budget proposal includes $150 million to build on existing recruitment and enrollment initiatives.

In its roadmap for the CCC system, the budget proposal specifies that CCCs must reduce time-to-completion and increase degree and certificate attainment rates, including a 20 percent increase in credentials for certain high-growth industries by 2026.

It also ties funding—for all three systems—to strengthening the transfer pathways between CCCs and UC and Cal State campuses. The budget reiterates the state’s goal for UC to enroll one in-state transfer student for every two new in-state first-year students.

Enrolling more in-state students

The budget also would provide funds for UC and CSU to enroll more in-state students, Inside Higher Ed reports.

Specifically, Newsom calls on Cal State to add 9,434 California students and UC to add 7,132 in the 2022-23 academic year, in part by reallocating 902 seats at UCLA, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego that are currently for out-of-state and international students. The budget includes $31 million to offset lost tuition revenue, given that in-state students pay about $30,000 less than nonresidents.

Lowering cost of attendance

To lower costs for students, the budget proposal directs UC to steer 45 percent of new tuition revenue toward financial aid, up from 33 percent currently. The goal, the proposal says is “to offer every UC undergraduate a pathway for debt-free education by 2030, with a goal to offer debt-free pathways to half of undergraduates by the 2025-26 academic year.”

The budget further includes a $515 million increase for the state’s Middle Class Scholarship program and $500 million for programs to assist students with financial aid forms.

Under the compact, UC would eliminate textbook costs for all lower-division undergraduate courses and many upper-division and graduate courses. Cal State, too, would reduce the cost of its course materials by 50 percent by 2025.

The system also would implement strategies to increase the availability and affordability of on-campus housing, with $750 million allocated for campus housing projects in the state budget plan.

Positioning for sustained progress

Newsom hopes to ensure that, by 2030, 70 percent of working-age Californians have a postsecondary degree or certificate. The long-range visibility afforded by the funding proposal and its goals are crucial to improvement, Tom Harnisch, vice president for government relations at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, told Higher Ed Dive. “The key to public higher education improving student access and outcomes is sufficient, sustained, and predictable budgeting,” he said.

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