In today’s economy, education beyond high school is often the best path out of poverty and into the middle class and above. Given the importance of a degree or certificate from a publicly supported California college — a community college, a California State University or the University of California — some taxpayers may ask why California colleges should serve any student who isn’t a state resident.
It is no surprise that students from across the country and around the world want to come to California to attend college. The state has a well-deserved reputation for having built the world’s finest system of higher education.
Many recognize California’s Master Plan for Education as the blueprint for college access and excellence. Other states and nations have gone to great effort to replicate it. The California Community Colleges, which today serve 2.1 million students annually at 112 public community college campuses, is the nation’s largest system of higher education and an entry point for students who plan to transfer into the CSU and UC systems. With 23 campuses serving more than 460,000 students, the California State University is the largest and most diverse university system in the nation. The 10 campuses and more than 238,000 students who attend a UC are part of a world-class research university that is second to none.
At the Sacramento region’s Los Rios Community College District, the overwhelming majority of our 75,000-plus students come from our expansive 2,400-square-mile service area. Los Rios does not actively recruit out-of-state or international students and has no immediate plans to do so. But students from outside of California do find their way to our four Los Rios Colleges: American River, Cosumnes River, Folsom Lake College and Sacramento City — and our California students benefit from the diversity these nonresidents bring to campus.
The opportunity to interact with peers from different countries and states is a valuable experience for our California students. Today’s global economy makes cultural competency more important than ever. Students can learn about other customs and cultures through travel and study abroad programs, but they can also benefit right here at home from working side by side with students from around the world.
Critics who oppose accepting nonresident students into state colleges and universities often express a concern that out-of-state or international students take away class seats that would or should have gone to a Californian. In some instances, California community colleges and universities have been aggressive in recruiting nonresident students to their campuses. But the reality is that students from outside of California also pay higher fees — and thus supply needed revenue — that help campuses provide more opportunities for additional California students.
At the Los Rios Colleges, for example, a California resident student with a full semester load of 15 units pays $690 in enrollment fees, while an out-of-state or international student pays $3,960 in tuition and fees for those same 15 units. At UC Davis, tuition and fees for 2015-2016 are $14,534 for a California resident and $38,558 for an out-of-state or international student.
As the father of two high-school-age children bound for college, I understand the concerns. But I also appreciate the benefits of more culturally diverse and financially stable campuses. We must be careful to strike a thoughtful balance between the benefits of increased revenue and increased cultural and global diversity for in-state students and the constraints that out-of-state and international enrollment might have on access for Californians.
But I would argue that the larger, more looming challenge facing all of higher education in California is shrinking state support.
Consider that Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed May budget revision represented the largest single-year proposed funding increase in memory for community colleges. And yet, even with that proposed boost in funding, California’s community colleges would remain about $750 million below where we were before the Great Recession (with dollars adjusted for inflation).
So while my higher education colleagues and I celebrate the governor’s proposed budget for 2015-16, we still must plan for the many challenges ahead, including economic uncertainty and the promise of ongoing growth in public employee retirement costs. Addressing the unfunded liabilities of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System is vital. The mission for college and university chancellors and presidents is to find the resources to pay these bills and to ride out economic downturns without compromising our academic programs and student services.
During those years of devastating budget cuts, it made perfect economic sense for colleges to look for revenue streams to replace that precipitous reduction in state support. For those colleges and universities that aggressively pursued out-of-state and international enrollment, the strategy offered both fiscal and cultural benefits.
For the Los Rios Colleges, our core mission is to serve the people of the Sacramento region as they seek high-value certificates, degrees and transfer opportunities to 4-year colleges and universities that lead to meaningful employment and well-rounded lives. The presence and value of out-of-state and international students at our colleges is consistent with that core mission. Before Los Rios would implement a plan to actively increase nonresident enrollment, we would first have a robust discussion with our faculty and staff and with our elected board of trustees that represents the community.
The excellence of our system of higher education in California is cause for celebration. As we look to the future of higher education in California, the role and number of students enrolling at California colleges from other states and countries is a good topic for continuing dialog. Expanding nonresident enrollment is not a panacea for the economic challenges facing our colleges, nor is it an option that can be rejected without careful consideration weighing the potential benefits for diversity and fiscal stability with the impact on resident students.