Don’t cut investment in our future

Paul Zingg is the president of Chico State University.

The governor’s proposed state budget for 2008-09 has very distressing news for the California State University and, indeed, all of public higher education. The proposed cuts ($386 million for the CSU alone) are much more than a fiscal crisis for higher education, however. There are serious public policy issues at stake, all focused on the question of the direction in which our state is headed.

Will California’s future be defined by a cleaner environment, a healthier population, greater economic growth, assured educational opportunity, stronger communities, and hope for all who live and come here? Can we say with any certainty that the state’s best years lie ahead and that today’s parents can expect a better life for their children? Can we build a promising future for all Californians, not just those of privilege and means?

It requires more than rhetoric to answer these questions affirmatively. It requires vision, will and an understanding of the kinds of investments that are critical for the state to deliver on its promises, not just talk about them or lament tough times.

There is no area more important to this translation than higher education. Thousands of prospective students are clamoring for admission to our institutions, more than we anticipated. With a downturn in the state’s and nation’s economic fortunes, those numbers will likely swell even more as many others do not find employment or seek to retool for the jobs ahead.

An ever-growing percentage of these college-seekers are from traditionally underrepresented populations. With students of color representing two-thirds of the K-12 enrollments in this state, this is not the time to close the doors to higher education and ignore the reality of the changing face of the California workforce. To do so would effect a tidal wave of personal tragedies that would have dire economic and social consequences.

The role of the CSU regarding the preparation of the state’s workforce is extraordinary. Almost 90 percent of the state’s K-12 teachers are graduates of the CSU. Two-thirds of the state’s nurses come from the CSU, as does more than 50 percent of the agriculture research and management workforce. Public administration and criminal justice draw 82 percent and 89 percent, respectively, of their employees from the CSU.

It is not an exaggeration to emphasize the CSU as the engine for the California economy and the shape of its future. Moreover, the number of jobs in this state that require a bachelor’s degree as the minimum credential continues to grow sharply.

This is a time that will test our state’s governmental leaders and other public policy makers. We must make sure they know what is at stake and what we expect from them.