Priority should be given to help students succeed

The American dream is becoming more elusive each year. The gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen, and for most it is increasingly difficult to make ends meet. One of the saving graces in the Golden State, and one of the few opportunities to a better quality of life, is the California State University system. It is one of the avenues for economic, social, and cultural growth that is open to everyone in California who would like an affordable, quality education.

The CSU system is responsible for nearly half of the state’s baccalaureate degrees, for training a majority of California’s teachers, administrators, criminal justice professionals, agricultural engineers, and for educating many other fields that are vital to the state’s economy. There is an undeniable correlation between the health of California’s economy and the success of its universities. In today’s ever-changing global economy, our universities protect our state’s economic competitiveness through innovative scientific discoveries, creation of partnerships with various business sectors, and the production of a skilled workforce.

Recently, the foundations to our economy built by CSUs are being threatened as California struggles to balance an under funded state budget. In his 2005-06 budget, the governor proposed to redirect eligible freshmen admitted to the University of California and CSUs to lower cost community colleges. I fought with my colleagues during the budget negotiations to reject the governor’s plan that jeopardized the promise made by our state to its students. I am proud to say that we saved the UCs and CSUs from being forced to redirect any eligible freshmen. If a student works hard and wants a college education, then they should have a right to one. I promise the students of California that I will continue defend their right to attend a publicly funded university.

Last week, the California Budget Project offered a glimpse into the state’s future and determined that as the population grows and becomes more diverse, it is crucial that we increase our investment in higher education. The study indicates that the demand for college educated labor will outpace the current supply. But if properly funded, I am confident that CSUs will rise to meet this challenge.

As budget shortfalls become an increasingly chronic problem for the state, it is crucial that adequate funding for our higher education infrastructure remain consistent and reliable, reflecting the fact one of California’s highest priorities.

In light of the recent flurry of news pointing to possible misuse of money by the UC system, it is also important that trust through transparency is established by CSU administrators.

Every dollar that is given to the university system is being entrusted to California by taxpayers and it is the obligation of every administrator in our public universities to use that money responsibly and to be held accountable for it. Our state lacks an adequate system of accountability to ensure that our universities are using their funding as directed to achieve the goals set by the California Higher Education Master Plan. This needs to change.

Alan Greenspan, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman, once said, “In a global environment in which prospects for economic growth now depend importantly on a country’s capacity to develop and apply new technologies, our universities are envied around the world.” This has never been truer than in California today. If we are to remain a force in the global economy, our higher education system must continue to generate top scientific breakthroughs and create the skilled workers it is known for. For that to occur we must ensure that the priority in our CSU system is the students and guarantee that they are not denied a chance to accomplish their dreams.

Lloyd E. Levine represents the 40th District in the California State Assembly.