I’ve finally figured out the reason for the annual dance between whoever occupies the governor’s office and California State University system leaders.

For those unfamiliar with the Sacramento Three-Step, it works like this.

Portrait of GV Wire News Director Bill McEwen

Bill McEwen

Opinion

First step: The governor low-balls funding for increased enrollment.

Second step: The CSU chancellor and the 23 campus presidents rally lawmakers and editorial boards to their cause.

Third step: The governor gives in a little, which is better than nothing, but puzzling in light of Gov. Brown’s and now Gov. Newsom’s pledge to help more impoverished Californians step up and into the middle class.

CSUs Are Path to the Middle Class

According to the CSU, every buck invested by the state returns $5.43 to California’s economy.

That’s a great bargain. Now and down the road. When first-generation college-goers graduate, it can raise the trajectory of brothers, sisters, and cousins for years to come.

“The most important source of highly educated workers in California are the state’s own colleges and universities. Policies and practices to improve college access and completion in the state will ensure that more Californians are able to help create and benefit from a strong economy.” — Hans Johnson, director, PPIC Higher Education Center

Moreover, it’s not like the governor and the Legislature have to break somebody else’s bones so that the CSUs enroll more qualified applicants. The state is swimming in money. In fact, its 2019-20 surplus is $21.5 billion.

The Public Policy Institute of California’s Hans Johnson recently exposed a gaping hole in Newsom’s prescription for ending the Tale of Two Californias (prosperous coast, struggling interior).

“The migration of young college graduates to California is a consequence of the state’s growing demand for highly skilled and highly educated workers,” writes Johnson, who is the director of the PPIC Higher Education Center and a senior fellow.

“But the numbers are not high enough to fully meet the state’s changing needs. Although many college graduates move to California from other states, the most important source of highly educated workers in California are the state’s own colleges and universities. Policies and practices to improve college access and completion in the state will ensure that more Californians are able to help create and benefit from a strong economy.”

An Easy Fix in a Sea of Big Hairy Audacious Goals

So, while Newsom is on the right track with some of his “Big Hairy Audacious Goals,” he’s also missing an easy fix.

And that is enrolling thousands more qualified CSU applicants, many of whom are poor and undoubtedly would face fewer barriers to graduation if they attended their nearest campus.

Let’s use Fresno State as an example. After the customary budget dance this spring, the CSU received a 2.7% bump in new enrollment funding, or $85 million — not the 5% requested by CSU leaders — for the 2019-20 school year.

The bureaucrats, of course, have come up with a generic word to describe the situation. “Impacted.” Like they’re talking about a bad wisdom tooth and not what it is: Telling an aspirational 18-year-old there’s no room at the inn.

That meant Fresno State had to tell 8,000 qualified applicants to look somewhere else. About 3,000 of them reside in the university’s target area: Fresno, Madera, Kings, and Tulare counties, all of which are begging for skilled workers.

The bureaucrats, of course, have come up with a generic word to describe the situation. “Impacted.” Like they’re talking about a bad wisdom tooth and not what it is: Telling an aspirational 18-year-old there’s no room at the inn.

In addition to Fresno State, the impacted CSU campuses are Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Fullerton, Long Beach, San Diego State, and San Jose State. This is much larger than a San Joaquin Valley problem.

Maybe a Ribbon Cutting Will Do the Trick

Now, I promised you an answer as to the why of the Sacramento Three-Step, and I’m not retreating.

Boosting enrollment is not a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. And it doesn’t provide what many politicians crave — a photo/video op.

It’s simply good policy. One that works.

Maybe if I find a way to turn the development of human capital into a ribbon cutting, Newsom will see the light next year.

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Learn more about the value of CSU schools at this link.

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