California lieutenant governor candidates pledge to work to lower college costs

What will your priorities be for higher education if you are elected lieutenant governor?
As a State Legislator, I have been a champion for reducing the financial burden on students and their families and I will continue working to ensure that California’s public universities are more accessible and affordable for ALL students, especially those from underserved and underrepresented communities. As part of the budget discussions this year, I continually advocated for full funding to the CSU and UC systems to ensure no tuition increases and vocally rejected any proposed tuition increases.
If elected as Lieutenant Governor, I will continue my commitment to making public higher education more affordable and accessible for all Californians. My priorities will center around tearing down barriers for students seeking to pursue a higher education. I believe that education is the greatest equalizer and is the key to building a more robust and competitive workforce for tomorrow—but many students and families are unable to afford enrollment today. The problems within our higher education system are multi-faceted and will require innovative and bold policies to solve them.
If we are to solve our issues in higher education, we must look to all the segments as part of the solution. This includes aligning our educational segments, ensuring equitable access and appropriate distribution of resources.
To start, I will work to ensure to ensure that low-income students have access to affordable education by:
Ensuring more budgetary transparency and accountability within our UC and CSU systems. In addition, we need to provide more funding to our UC and CSU systems so that we can return to the dream of truly affordable higher education set forth in the California Master Plan for Higher Education. We need to ensure that funding is directed to those students in most need to remove barriers and create equitable pathways for students.
Developing a comprehensive data system and coordinating body to provide the state with a clearinghouse to collect, store and utilize data regarding our California students. Currently, we have no way to see where students from California high schools attend college and how successful they are, and it’s difficult to have a full picture of how well our educational systems are serving low-income students and students of color. From this data, we can more effectively develop long-term policy agendas, to better determine where to direct resources and create a more harmonious relationship amongst our various education segments.
Reforming the Master Plan because we cannot continue to be entrenched in the Master Plan of the 1960s. We need to modernize and provide our education of the 21st century and beyond. I believe it is the bold and innovative policy agenda that is necessary to once again make our higher education system the gold standard. In addition, I believe any conversation around capacity has to center on reform of the Master Plan, which means we will be able to accept and retain more eligible students than before.
How will you work to advance those priorities given the limited power of the office?
While there are those who believe the Lieutenant Governor has limited power, I believe this office provides a unique and instrumental pulpit from which to enact change, but it must be used effectively. As Lieutenant Governor I will serve as a voting and vocal member of both the Board of Regents at the University of California and the Board of Trustees at the California State University system and I am deeply committed to utilizing this position to make public higher education more affordable and accessible for all Californians.
Though I would not sit on the Board of Governors for the Community College system, I can utilize my platform at the CSU and UC systems, along with my relationships with former fellow legislators, as a vocal advocate for students across our education systems. If we are to solve our issues in higher education, we must look to all the segments as part of the solution. This includes aligning our educational segments, ensuring equitable access and appropriate distribution of resources.
I have learned from my time in the California State Legislature that relationships are an effective tool to advancing priorities. Apart from being an ex officio Regent and Trustee, the Lieutenant Governor is also the President of the Senate and has a unique relationship with the Governor. I have the experience with advancing bold and historic policies through the Legislature over my 12 years serving as a legislator. I have developed the relationships with colleagues whom I can call upon and work together with to advance those priorities. I believe the Lieutenant Governor’s office is more than ceremonial and can make a profound difference in higher education policy — it just requires bold leadership.
As you know, the Lieutenant Governor is an ex officio voting member of the University of California Board of Regents and the California State University Board of Trustees. How important is it for the Lt. Governor to attend all meetings of those boards? If elected, will you commit to attending all meetings?
If elected as Lt. Governor I will certainly commit to attend all of the University of California Board of Regents and the California University Board of Trustees meetings.
I will continue working to empower education stakeholders at all levels and give them a voice within our California State University and University of California systems, and more indirectly, the Community College system.
Recently, I authored SCA 14, a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would have changed the makeup of the UC Board of Regents and make it more accountable to the students, faculty and the broader educational community. We need to change the culture and ensure at the highest level that leadership is the voice of the people which they have been appointed to serve. We need our leadership to reflect the demographics of our state.
Having diversity on the UC Board of Regents and CSU Board of Trustees means we will be able to more properly ensure funding is directed to those students in most need to remove barriers and create equitable pathways for them. We cannot expect students to successfully complete their higher education when they continue to have roadblocks.
Given the thought that the Lieutenant Governor’s office has limited power, the Regent and Trustee meetings provides a unique opportunity to provide visionary leadership through vocalizing concerns, listening to stakeholders and setting policy agendas.
If the Legislature does not respond adequately to funding requests from UC and CSU in future budgets and the systems propose tuition increases to make up for the shortfall in revenue, would you vote to authorize those tuition increases?
No, I would not vote to authorize tuition increases. For example, I proudly stood alongside some of my colleagues in the State Legislature and called upon the Governor to fully fund the UC and CSU, and ultimately we were successful. These are the relationships and knowledge I will bring to the Lieutenant Governor’s office to get things done in through the Legislature, with both policy and budget goals. In addition, we vehemently opposed any proposed tuition increases and as a result of our activism, both the UC and CSU rescinded any proposed increases.
But I also believe we need to figure out how we can commit to long-term funding solutions for higher education so that we are not having to continue with annual budget negotiations. This does students a disservice. Also, I think that student fee increases only serve to inhibit current and prospective students from achieving their academic goals. I believe that freezing or rolling back student fees will lead to higher enrollment and retention and I would not vote to authorize tuition increases.
California’s public universities are known for low tuition and robust financial aid. But other costs become barriers for many students. How will you work to ensure low-income students are able to access and afford an education at California’s four-year public universities, as well as at its community colleges?
California has long been the lead in providing financial assistance for tuition costs. However, any conversation about cost for higher education would be sorely lacking if we did not include the true cost of college. This means housing, food, books, transportation and tuition. This conversation needs to be had at ALL levels of higher education — UC, CSU and Community Colleges. Research shows that despite seemingly the least expensive option, in many regions throughout California, community college students bear the most cost.
This issue is very personal for me since I struggled to work and attend community college and CSU Fullerton while I worked full-time and raised my daughter. I know what it’s like to ask for loans and base higher educational decisions on transportation, housing and food costs.
That’s why I proudly co-authored a bill to provide free community college and authored a bill to increase the number of Competitive Cal Grants available, but I also recognize that we cannot stop there. We have students who are homeless, sleeping out of their cars because they cannot afford to live in a given area. We have students commuting hours by any means to make a class in order to avoid further debt. We have students who are going hungry at institutions that offer buffet meals at every meal in order to keep food on their family’s table instead.
We cannot continue to talk about the promise of free college without addressing the true cost of college. Nor can we expect our students to graduate in 4 years without providing them the tools to do so. Students who experience homelessness or food insecurity can also experience physical and mental health consequences that impact academic performance.
Our Cal Grant system is very robust and yet we are falling behind. I was a Cal Grant recipient, so I know what our students go through. As Lt. Governor, I will work to ensure that we evaluate how the systems could provide more affordable housing to those in need. We need to ensure that food pantries and CalFresh are available system-wide at an appropriate standard. We need to provide supplies to students so that they can appropriately learn in the classes they are taking. Additionally, we will also need to be open to a campus by campus approach rather than one size fits all model. Students in LA might experience different issues than students in Fresno.
I believe it is appropriate to reform the Cal Grant system in order to streamline it. There are students who can fall through the cracks and miss out on opportunities to receive financial aid. Cal Grant B access awards, which help offset the costs of non-tuition costs, have not kept up with inflation. Competitive Cal Grants have not kept up with demand. If elected to serve as the next Lieutenant Governor of California, I will continue to fight to increase availability of the Cal Grant so that students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to pursue their educational goals.
Should either of the university systems add a new campus or campuses? If so, where should new institutions be located?
I am open to leading efforts to conduct studies regarding local needs for new campuses in our communities in order to expand access to higher education to ALL Californians, especially our underserved and underrepresented communities.
It is not secret that we have a capacity issue within our higher education system. This does not automatically indicate the need for new campuses to be built in either system because that takes considerable resources and time. The existing costs for outstanding capital improvement programs and resources for students is alarming. That’s why I believe we much establish a much more robust data collection system in order to inform the Lieutenant Governor, the Governor, the higher education systems and the Legislature on how available resources can be most efficiently and effectively utilized.
Should efforts be made to convince voters to repeal Proposition 209’s ban on considering race and ethnicity in public university admissions? Do you believe there is more California’s public universities should do to increase student diversity and if so, what?
I believe repealing Proposition 209 is necessary to ensure that every young person has an equal opportunity to receive a quality education. I introduced multiple statutory changes and constitutional amendments to do just that, including Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, which asked voters to repeal Prop 209’s ban on the use of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the recruitment and retention processes of California’s public universities. Unfortunately, this bill faced opposition and failed to pass. In addition to working to repeal Prop 209, I will continue efforts to make college more affordable for all Californians and support initiatives that aim to make higher education more accessible to communities of color and other marginalized communities.
California’s public university systems are working to increase their student diversity, including outreach to underrepresented communities, but I believe they are extremely limited by Proposition 209. These are the conversations we need to have in higher education. But I believe it goes beyond student diversity. We need to consider faculty diversity and leadership diversity as well. Teachers and university leaders are important role models for their students and as such should reflect the population of the state of California. The economic success of the state depends on ensuring access for those communities that continue to be marginalized.
What grade would you give the performances of CSU System Chancellor Timothy White and UC System President Janet Napolitano in their respective positions?
While both Chancellor White and President Napolitano have made progress in reducing tuition costs of late, both offices can do more to lower skyrocketing costs for students and enroll and support more California students in our world-renowned higher education systems. In the light of recent audits done on the systems, I believe both Chancellor White and President Napolitano can do more to increase their transparency, especially given their utilization of state funding. If elected Lieutenant Governor, both should be prepared for tough, provocative questions, and to be held accountable.

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