Dan Walters: California Faces Higher Education Crisis, But Politicians Dither

July 24, 2017

Chico Enterprise-Record
By Dan Walters

Earlier this year, the Public Policy Institute of California issued a warning about a looming collision between California’s demographic and economic trends.

Baby boomers, a huge proportion of the state’s workforce, are retiring in droves. The oldest are at least 70, the youngest in their early 50s. By 2030, the vast majority will not be working.

Meanwhile, the state’s economy is continuing to evolve, creating an ever-increasing demand for well-educated workers, particularly in technical fields.

“In 2030, if current trends persist, 38 percent of jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree,” a PPIC study said. “But population and education trends suggest that only 33 percent of working-age adults in California will have bachelor’s degrees by 2030 — a shortfall of 1.1 million college graduates.”

However, while the need for action is obvious, the state is stuck with a half-century-old “master plan” for higher education that is woefully outdated.

It assumes that the three collegiate sectors — the University of California, the California State University system and the locally governed community college system — will collaborate seamlessly. But in fact, they compete fiercely for capital and operational funds and incessantly wage turf battles over course and degree offerings.

As a result, students face daunting hurdles to get the degrees they — and the state — need to prosper, not to mention ever-rising fees and other costs even when they nail down the courses leading to those degrees.

For decades, governors and legislators have refused to update the master plan, unwilling to take on the systems’ entrenched bureaucratic, political and union stakeholders. Instead, there have been piecemeal, one-bill-at-a-time reform efforts.

A promising approach — one widely adopted in other states — is to break down artificial barriers that separate the systems. But it’s been a tough slog in California.