Candidates for lieutenant governor talk higher education at conference Tuesday

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California’s candidates for lieutenant governor — state Senator Ed Hernandez and former U.S. ambassador to Hungary Eleni Kounalakis spoke about college affordability, capacity and access at a moderated interview hosted by the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Tuesday night.

The event, called “Conversations on the Future of Higher Education,” followed a question and answer format and was sponsored by the organizations California Competes and the College Futures Foundation. Executive director of California Competes Lande Ajose, president and CEO of the College Futures Foundation Monica Lozano and higher education journalist Felicia Mello moderated the event.

The next lieutenant governor, who will sit on the UC Board of Regents and the California State University Board of Trustees, will influence decisions that affect college campuses statewide.

Kounalakis said during the event that her highest priority is making higher education more affordable. She added that many people say the lieutenant governor “doesn’t do anything. If elected, Kounalakis wants to commit a large portion of her staff to higher education, she said.

“(High tuition) is creating less opportunity to throw open the doors and see what talent rises up,” Kounalakis said at the event. “We are facing a looming skills gap.”

Hernandez said his top three priorities concerning higher education are increasing access, reducing cost and increasing graduation rates for students of color.

Hernandez added that he plans to amend the state’s Master Plan for Higher Education, which was last updated in the 1960s.

“The Master Plan needs to look a lot different,” Hernandez said at the event. “California is much different than in the 1960s. The workforce of the future should reflect demographics of the state. So should our campuses.”

Other discussion topics for the candidates included what each would do to alleviate university housing crises, address food insecurity and make mental health resources available on campus.

Hernandez said state officials must have a conversation about how to generate revenue that is not subject to the “ebbs and flows of the times.”

“These are challenges that kids are dealing with today: homelessness, mental health issues, substance abuse,” Hernandez said at the event. “The priority of the money needs to be to those people who need it the most.”

According to Kounalakis, her approach to alleviating the housing crisis would be to first analyze data from California universities on where money is going. She also said she hopes to see more affordable housing built.

“In a perfect world, you can find perfect solutions. The way I can see the opportunity to find affordable housing on college campuses is we need to build more,” Kounalakis said at the event. “What I would like to do is start by requesting data from the campuses of how they determine what they are charging their students.”

James Chang, a commissioner on the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board and a former student trustee in the Ventura County Community College District, attended the event because he was interested in hearing what California’s next lieutenant governor has to say about education.

“As someone who is also the first in his family to attend a four-year university, I think it’s very important to see how exactly we’re going to reinvest in higher education,” Chang said. “That’s why I’m here today.”

Sabrina Dong covers crime and courts. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Sabrina_Dong_.