This opinion piece from Jeff Bleich, one of the Trustees of the California State University system, really hits home. Three generations of my family were educated in either the UC or the CSU system — both my grandfathers were UC professors and my dad and stepmother still are. Mr. Bleich writes about the opportunities his UC Berkeley law degree has given him, and his efforts to pay it forward through the years. He observes:
My story is not unique. It is the story of California’s rise from the 1960s to the 1990s. Millions of people stayed here and succeeded because of their California education. We benefited from the foresight of an earlier generation that recognized it had a duty to pay it forward.
That was the bargain California made with us when it established the California Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960. By making California the state where every qualified and committed person can receive a low-cost and high-quality education, all of us benefit. Attracting and retaining the leaders of the future helps the state grow bigger and stronger. Economists found that for every dollar the state invests in a CSU student, it receives $4.41 in return.
So as someone who has lived the California dream, there is nothing more painful to me than to see this dream dying. It is being starved to death by a public that thinks any government service — even public education — is not worth paying for. And by political leaders who do not lead but instead give in to our worst, shortsighted instincts.
It breaks my heart that a system that has offered so much opportunity to so many is in tatters. When will we wake up and realize that you can’t have a world-class educational system if you don’t invest in it?
It is, indeed, incredibly disturbing to witness what is occurring in California’s great higher education systems. However, I have had the opportunity to work as a consultant to institutions both in the CSU and the UC systems, and it is clear to me that self-sufficiency is the only effective path for higher education in the near term. State funding has been declining steadily for decades, and relying on state support is simply not feasible. It is incumbent on leadership to continue to adapt its operational model in order to keep alive the extraordinary opportunities that the great California higher education systems have afforded the state’s citizens.