California higher education leaders have high hopes for Newsom's spending plans - EdSource by Larry Gordon

Thursday, January 3, 2019
As California’s new governor, Gavin Newsom will face a rare and well-timed opportunity to put his mark on the world’s largest higher education system.

Newsom, who is to be inaugurated Jan. 7, starts off with an estimated $14.8 billion state budget surplus and, as a result, high expectations among higher education leaders and experts that he will keep many of his campaign promises. Among those pledges: more money to the state’s university systems to avoid tuition hikes, two years of free community college, financial aid reform and better coordination throughout higher education.

The impact of Newsom’s governorship on higher education could be significant, touching the lives of the 2.5 million students in total enrolled across the 115 community colleges, 23 California State University campuses and the 10 University of California campuses.

In response to an EdSource questionnaire for primary election candidates last spring, Newsom pledged that his first budget would include “a significant boost” in spending for CSU and UC and he would oppose any tuition increases. “It has been nothing less than devastating to watch the state’s disinvestment from public higher education, and with it, stripping a generation of Californians of an opportunity those before them enjoyed,” he wrote at the time.

In that statement and during numerous campaign forums, Newsom also said he would push for all students to receive two years of free community college under the California Promise program that now covers one year if their college district agrees. In addition, he said he wanted to revive a state agency that would coordinate the state’s three college and state university systems and try to expand and improve financial aid for older students.

Newsom’s campaign statements often did not provide specifics on timing or dollar amounts. In recent weeks, Newsom’s staff did not respond to repeated EdSource requests for an interview or policy statement about his specific plans. Some of that is expected to be revealed in Newsom’s first formal budget statement to be released in mid-January.

Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, chair of the Assembly Committee on Higher Education, told EdSource that he expects that “higher education will be more of a priority for (Newsom) than it was for the previous governor.” While he would not predict specific spending levels Newsom may offer in his first state budget, Medina said he anticipates “better funding” and more attention to the issues.