Brown’s low marks for higher ed

Californians are worried that the state’s public colleges and universities are underfunded and headed in the wrong direction, and they blame the Governor and legislature. Jerry Brown’s overall disapproval rating is 38 percent, but when higher education is singled out, 53 percent of residents say he’s not doing a good job, according to a new state survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Gov. Brown's approval rating on higher education. (Source: PPIC) Click to enlarge.
Gov. Brown's approval rating on higher education. (Source: PPIC) Click to enlarge.

But the Governor is an Oscar contender compared to the state legislature’s ratings; 70 percent of respondents gave lawmakers a thumbs down on overall job performance, and 71 percent disapprove of their handling of higher education.

“Most Californians say budget cuts have hurt public colleges and universities a lot,” said PPIC president and CEO Mark Baldassare in a written statement accompanying the poll’s release. “Their concerns about where the system is headed are reflected in the low grades they give their leaders for handling higher education.”

State legislature's higher education approval rating (Source:  PPIC) Click to enlarge.
State legislature's higher education approval rating (Source: PPIC) Click to enlarge.

PPIC has been conducting higher education surveys since 2007. For this one, they did telephone interviews, in five languages, during late October and early November, with 2,503 adults including likely voters and parents with children 18 or younger.

Other key findings

  • Affordability is a major concern. 61% say affording college is a big problem for students. 75% say students have to borrow too much money to pay for college.
  • 46% say that the purpose of college is to gain skills and knowledge for the workplace, while 35% say it’s for personal and intellectual growth.
  • 35% say the mission of community colleges should be preparing students to transfer to four-year colleges, while 29% say it is career technical or vocational education.
  • Only 23% of respondents say most students are prepared to do college-level work.
  • Three-fourths of residents say a racially diverse student body is very important (53%) or somewhat important (22%).
  • A majority of Californians believe that the three public higher education systems are doing an excellent or good job, although those numbers have fallen some since the 2007 survey.
  • A majority of Democrats and likely voters would support a ballot measure in 2012 to pay for new construction projects at state colleges and universities, while most Republicans would not.
  • 73% of Latinos – the largest of any ethnic and racial group – said a college education is necessary for a person to be successful in today’s work world. Whites, just 46%, were least likely to agree with that statement.

    College affordability (Source:  PPIC) Click to enlarge.
    College affordability (Source: PPIC) Click to enlarge.

It’s important, now leave me alone

Most people polled were well aware of the funding tsunami that’s swallowing California’s public colleges and universities, but they’re not yet ready to move to higher ground. Only 28 percent said the higher education system is headed in the right direction, and nearly two-thirds said the schools don’t get enough state funding, but few people want to pay more in taxes to boost their budgets. A little more than half – 52 percent – aren’t willing to increase taxes even to maintain the current inadequate funding levels, and 69 percent oppose any more fee hikes (like the 9 percent increase approved earlier this week by the California State University Board of Trustees, which we wrote about here).

Michele Siqueiros, Executive Director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, issued a statement about that paradox between beliefs and actions. “Without additional revenues or a shifting of current revenues to higher education, the future does not look promising in terms of producing the one million additional college graduates the state needs by 2025.”

In the absence of a willingness by Californians to pay more, Siqueiros said the state needs to make tough choices. “More than ever, we have to be more vigilant about policy reforms that prioritize the limited resources we do have to protect access and increase student success.”

Author: Kathryn Baron

Kathryn Baron, co-writer of TOP-Ed (Thoughts On Public Education in California), has been covering education in California for about 15 years; most of that time at KQED Public Radio where her reports aired on The California Report as well as various National Public Radio programs. She also wrote for magazines and newspapers before going virtual as producer and editor at The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Kathy grew up in New York in a family of teachers. She moved to California for graduate school and after spending one sunny New Year’s Day riding her bicycle in the foothills, decided to stay. She and her husband live in Belmont. They have two children, one in college and one in high school.

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