On Friday, UC President Janet Napolitano called for a change in mindset concerning funding for higher education, saying that public colleges and universities need to focus not on what they need but on what they can do with current investment.
Napolitano spoke to about 250 people, including government officials, education administrators and lobbyists, at a panel titled “Rebuilding and Reinventing Public Higher Education” in San Francisco. Hosted by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the discussion featured Napolitano alongside California State University Chancellor Timothy White and California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris.
Although she called the passage of Proposition 30 a “great expression of political will” favoring public universities and colleges, Napolitano emphasized that it is not a silver bullet. The focus, she said, needs to be on ensuring future accessibility and financial viability for the system.
“I think it is a losing strategy to say, ‘We need more money,’ ” she said at the panel. “Everybody needs more money — there are competing needs all over the place.”
Harris said that there have been cuts in other public sectors and that the argument needs to be centered on why the state should invest in higher education rather than these sectors.
“Our trump is that we are an investment,” he said. “In some respects, we’re the technicians to raise the quality of life for everyone in our state.”
Napolitano agreed with Harris. She said the focus of the UC, CSU and community colleges is to create a spread of highly educated people across the state, adding, “There is value in having an educated citizenry.”
The state currently supports 2.5 million students across 112 community colleges, 23 CSU campuses and 10 UC campuses, according to the president of San Francisco State University, Leslie Wong, who moderated the event.
Part of creating a meaningful dialogue about investment, Harris said, is staying close to students and their concerns by regularly visiting the campuses and interacting with undergraduates and graduates.
“It is very easy to get isolated in these jobs and to lose touch with teaching and learning,” he said. “(It is important) to stay close to the people we are supposed to be serving.”
The lack of funding over the past few years has significantly hindered the success of the California Master Plan for Higher Education, which was intended to integrate the community college, CSU and UC systems into a collaborative establishment, White said.
While all three panelists praised the plan, they acknowledged some components need to be re-examined to increase effectiveness and accessibility for those seeking degrees.
“The Master Plan is like me: a little tattered, a little gray and frayed at the edges but still intact,” White said. “We do need to reinvigorate it.”
Some strategies to increase accessibility that were suggested at the panel included boosting the number of courses available online as well as providing remediation programs for underprepared students entering community college.
Discussion between Napolitano, Harris and other community college leaders regarding improving transfer rates to UC campuses will continue on Monday.
“Public higher education is an investment,” White said. “It is an antidote to poverty, to crime and to violence. This isn’t about investing in a campus or university system, it’s about investing in the fabric of California.”