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California’s public university system used to be the envy of the world. Over the past decade, the costs of in-state tuition at the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) have risen at far steeper rates than at other public universities in other states. These steady, massive increases have seriously jeopardized the affordability of a college education for California families, especially for those with relatively modest incomes.

In today’s increasingly competitive and globalized economy, the skills obtained through higher education are key to success; the greater the number of Californians who pursue and complete a college education in the field of their choice, the greater the chances of a thriving, dynamic California economy that generates innovation and growth, creating high-paying jobs and brighter futures for all. Moreover, allowing college to become unattainable but for a chosen few, while saddling too many who pursue it with crushing debt loads, is not only bad for individuals, it’s bad for all of us. Without a qualified, engaged labor force properly equipped to compete and win in the globalized marketplace of the 21st century, California’s economy is unlikely to thrive, making it impossible to support the kinds of state programs to which we as a state have come to take for granted over the past decades.

 

As the result of steady tuition increases over the past decade, the costs of attending California’s public universities are now at an all-time high. From 2004 to 2013, the average yearly tuition at UC and CSU schools more than doubled.  Such steep increases are a source of concern for average Californians, who justifiably fear that they and their children will be priced out of postsecondary education or forced to take on excessive debt in order to earn a degree.

A statewide survey conducted in December 2012 found that almost two-thirds of Californians are seriously concerned about the affordability of higher education in our state. As proof of the impact of that burden, a recent study found that only 19% of Cal State freshmen are completing their degrees in four years. What can we do to reverse this destructive trend? First, Governor Brown deserves credit for using the state budget process to exert leverage on the UC and CSU systems to hold off on additional increases in tuitions and fees. State Senator Steve Glazer is to be commended for taking a thoughtful, creative approach in recently introducing legislation that would provide incentives for students in the Cal State system to stay on track toward graduation.

Much more needs to be done to restore the dream of high quality, affordable post-secondary education for every Californian. Now that the state’s finances have stabilized as the result of improvements in the state economy following the worst recession in modern memory, it’s time for our state’s elected representatives and other officials to take up the question of how to make college both more affordable and more accessible to all Californians, especially those from working families most intimidated by the prospect of higher education.

Similarly, deliberate attention also needs to be ensuring proper oversight of for-profit educational institutions that have moved in to fill the existing gap, and whose programs too often fail to meet their promises, with disastrous consequences for those who believe in them.

As your state senator, I will make affordability and access in higher education one of my highest priorities. California’s students represent an immense source of untapped potential—for innovation, achievement, and participation in the 21st century economy. The public university system in California belongs to all of us, and we must ensure that it continues to, properly and affordably, serve us all.

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