The fundamental mission of higher education is to provide students with the knowledge and skills required to make a positive contribution to society. As state funds for education continue to decline, public universities and community colleges increasingly must rely on supplemental funding.
In this challenging economic environment, UC San Diego joined forces with its regional higher education partners in a collaborative communications effort, united in the belief that four potent voices of higher education leadership would resonate and be more effective than one. The goal remains the same: to ensure a strong economic, intellectual, and skills-based workforce in the future.
But the region's public institutions of higher education are under a financial cloud during a time when the sun should be shining on our graduates. Instead of feeling happiness and a sense of pride in reaching their educational milestones, most graduates are experiencing a palpable sense of uncertainty about their job prospects. We the San Diego Community College District; the University of California, San Diego; California State University, San Marcos; and San Diego State University have done our job in educating and preparing students to excel. But in the current economic climate, the value of proactive career programs, alumni networking opportunities, and alma mater reputation is small when compared to the effects of the state of California's reduced commitment to higher education.
Because of the global financial crisis, we are managing budgetary challenges that will affect our campuses for years to come. In spite of this, our graduating classes will be the ones bearing the burden if the state's investment in higher education dwindles any further. They are the bridge to a very difficult road ahead. We must pay attention and act now.
Our region's long-term economic strength, and our leadership in cultural affairs and the arts and sciences, are inextricably linked to the success of our institutions of higher education. San Diego's two- and four-year colleges provide students with the knowledge and skills required to make positive contributions to society.
Our graduates, whether they majored in biology, psychology, occupational therapy, history, theology, communications, or engineering, possess much more than cutting-edge skills. They also embody a spirit of volunteerism and service that is urgently needed by nonprofit and philanthropic organizations, from San Ysidro to New Orleans to Darfur. We must consider all options to help San Diego's 22,000 recent college graduates and the regional economy. Indeed, the same is true for graduates across the country.
The governor and the legislature must not give up on our students they are the best investment we can make to stimulate California's economic recovery and long-term economic health. Unfortunately, California's funding for higher education is in a prolonged state of decline. As an example, the share of the state's budget allocated to the University of California system has fallen from 8 percent in the 1960s to just 3 percent today. California's four-year public universities are being forced to increase student fees, even during these hard times, to make up for state budget cuts. (Fees at community colleges are set by the legislature.)
Reductions in the state's investment in higher education insidiously erode the economic potential of the San Diego region. This realization has prompted institutions of higher education in San Diego to rely increasingly on supplemental funding sources: support from private foundations and donors.
Charitable individuals and businesses have supported the construction of facilities that benefit our campuses as well as our local communities, ranging from a new biosciences center and Southern California's only public pharmacy school to athletics fields, conference facilities, a state-of-the-art music center, and so much more. The generosity of our donors is matched only by their optimistic vision of what San Diego can become, how our work here affects the rest of the world, and how we can achieve our goals.
We are working together to establish ways to preserve the environment, make our campuses and communities more sustainable and affordable, maximize opportunities for interdisciplinary scholarly pursuits, and share faculty expertise. This model of collaboration is needed more now than ever to help our universities and community colleges train the next generation of skilled workers that San Diego's industries, health care providers, and other enterprises need in order to grow and prosper.
As public universities and community colleges, we continue to seek state, federal, and foundation support but we must also rely on private stakeholders to keep the doors open. When you hear of college graduations, think of the future. Continued support of public higher education by private citizens, business, and foundations will ensure that students are trained and prepared to positively impact the future economic vitality of San Diego and beyond.
Stacie Spector is the Associate Vice Chancellor, University Communications and Public Affairs, at the University of California, San Diego.
This commentary is adapted from an op-ed piece that appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune, with permission from the publisher. The original was signed by the chancellors of the University of California, San Diego; California State University, San Marcos; the San Diego Community College District; and San Diego State University.