By Kelly Morris | UC San Diego
California started out the 1960s with a pioneering project: a comprehensive, inclusive system of public higher education to fit all Californian’s needs, from community college to graduate research institutions. Today, California’s Master Plan for education has been suffering from neglect by the state budget and lack of adaptation to the changing role of higher education in today’s economy.
This neglect could be our downfall. California will, by 2030, be unable to meet our economy’s demand for college-educated workers. An excess of unskilled laborers will drive up unemployment for those workers and shrink earnings, slowing economic growth and increasing the strain on California’s welfare programs as residents unable to earn enough income seek support from the state.
Our higher education system has decayed since the 1970s. Prop 13 limited funds available for education, and various cuts have led to a decrease in per-student spending of 40% since 1990. The University of California is struggling to afford pensions, basic campus maintenance, and expansion to meet enrollment goals. And while the vast majority of Californians are receptive of providing more funding for higher education,2 our legislators have delayed seriously looking at the problems in our higher education system.
Instead, more hot-button topics such as welfare and healthcare– i.e, government support programs– have taken a front seat. But education can reduce the costs of government spending on entitlement programs for years. It can decrease unemployment, reduce the use of H2B visas, increase earnings and income tax revenue, and even reduce the costs of our law enforcement and healthcare programs. The Master Plan wasn’t called “Master” for nothing.
The Public Policy Institute of California has estimated that California will be short 1.1 million bachelor degree-holders by 2030. For an economy increasingly surrounding Information technology, healthcare, and engineering, this is worrying. Many companies, anxious about our current federal administration’s new policies limiting H1B visas, argued that they need these visas to “import” skilled labor as they cannot fill open positions with local workers. Simply not enough Californians have the skills needed to fill the most widely available jobs. This skill gap will slow California’s economic growth and leave millions of Californians in economic limbo and unable to work in their home state.
A less educated California is a poorer California. More degree holders means higher earnings and more tax revenue to fund state and local programs. Californians, unable to find jobs with their qualifications and also unable to afford higher education to change that fact, will leave the state for greener pastures and the Golden State will suffer. For those who cannot make a living, the state will have to support them through already strained welfare programs. Healthcare and retirement programs will explode in cost. Each bachelor’s degree holder on average will receive $82,000 less in government services and pay $273,000 more in taxes than a high school graduate. Reliable and accessible public education needs to be supported in order to ensure the health of California’s growing skilled-labor based economy.
California, like the nation as a whole, is changing demographically in addition to economically. The fastest-growing demographic in California are latino/as, the group least likely to have obtained a college degree. With diversity increasing (by 2030, 70% of California youth will be Latinx, Black, Asian, or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander), it is important that education is accessible across all races and backgrounds.Overall, only 33% of Californian adults have a bachelor’s degree. Some argue that too many young people attend college when they do not need to, and that emphasis should be placed on trade schools and on-the-job training. The labor shortage isn’t limited to STEM careers. The construction industries and trades like plumbing and electrical work are also struggling to find young employees. There is some truth in the line of thought that a bachelor’s degree isn’t for everyone (thus the Master Plan’s community college system). However, California’s educational infrastructure leads students who want a technical career towards predatory for-profit colleges. Students leave with massive amounts of debt and a degree/certificate from a non-accredited institution, leaving employers unimpressed with credentials. For-profit schools are responsible for the majority of student debt as well. Community colleges– an integral part of California’s master plan– need support to meet the need of more technical training.
The myth that students at four-year colleges choose to study “useless” majors must be dispelled– a PPIC study of 2015 freshman showed that 85% and 78% respectively place access to better jobs and to get “training for a specific career” as the most important reasons to attend college. New studies show that most students choose study fields more likely to get them jobs, like business and health fields.
The growing costs of attending a four-year institution are often the deciding factor is attendance. With costs so high, many opt to attend community colleges (to hopefully transfer), or take on tens of thousands of dollars in loans to fund their education. Room in California’s state budget has shrunk for public higher education. In 1990, 78% of per-student spending came from the state, now that number is 38%. In addition, the already sparse funding has not yet recovered from 2008 Great Recession-era cuts. Institutions are increasingly relying on tuition and student fees to stay afloat. With increasing need for college-educated workers, the financial barriers to education need to come down.
Pouring money into financial aid just increases loan debt and fails to provide money for non-instructional costs of running a university. Campus maintenance, construction, and benefits for employees are also being neglected. To ensure that California’s higher education keeps its world-class quality, the state NEEDS to support these institutions now.
Proposition 13, a popular tax law passed in 1978, helps longtime homeowners stay in their homes as property taxes soar. But Prop 13 also did two other things: it made it harder for local communities to raise their own taxes, and it allowed commercial property to also benefit from property tax caps.
Commercial reform of Prop 13 would raise billions for public education. Since Prop 13 forbids property tax increases of greater than 2% until the property is resold, corporations like Disney who own huge lots of land still pay 1978-era taxes on their modern-day property. Without the incentive to resell commercial property, new up-and-coming small business struggle to afford the taxes on new, reassessed property while their neighbors pay a fraction.
It’s important to uphold the sections of Prop 13 that protect homeowners, especially in an era where housing is as scarce and expensive as ever. But loopholes in the Proposition allow for big corporations to slide by without paying their fair share in property tax.
Prop 13 passed with 65% of the vote in 1978. Today, 77% of Californians want more support for higher education. Commercial Prop 13 reform will mean California higher education will continue to be respected across the country and world. It means UC will continue to produce medical discoveries, scientific studies, and patents by the hundreds. It means support for expanding in-demand programs like computer science and engineering. It means more educated Californians, a healthy economy, and a better future for all Californians.
Kelly Morris is a sophomore at UC San Diego and served as the University Affairs intern for UCSA over the summer 2017.