Investment in Higher Education is Essential to Regional Business Growth

Back Commentary Nov 20, 2015 By Alex Gonzalez

For the first time since 2006, California’s governor and Legislature will provide the California State University the funding its Board of Trustees had sought for this academic year. Of course the level of funding does not approach what it was before the great recession, but it does provide an opportunity for the largest system of higher education in this state and country to meet the continued demand for education sought by thousands of potential students.  

This year, the CSU can serve an additional 12,000 students who otherwise would not have been able to attend one of the system’s 23 campuses. Not only is this significant, but it’s also a bit of a surprise given the years of budget reductions and attacks on the cost and value of a college degree. The Obama Administration’s focus on student debt and loan default has heightened the perception that tuition costs are out of control. But here in California, University of California President Janet Napolitano brought the lack of funding for public higher education into sharp relief during a direct confrontation with the governor and Legislature. Her actions can be viewed as another crisis in the ongoing politics of higher education or as a harbinger of things to come. I choose to see it as the latter and am cautiously optimistic that things are getting better.

So what does this mean for Sacramento State and the Capital Region? To begin, it means Sacramento State won’t have to face the same kinds of budget reductions it has had to deal with since 2004. Instead, the university will be able to serve more students this fall. More importantly, it will mean that the university will be able to continue the important work it has conducted for many years as a comprehensive, regional university.

Sacramento State is an integral and necessary part of this community.  It serves more than 29,000 students at the undergraduate and graduate level and offers 60 undergraduate majors and 30 graduate degrees, including a doctorate in educational leadership and a doctorate in physical therapy. It has a diverse student body reflective of the region and, in fact, is now designated both as an Asian- and Hispanic-serving institution by the federal government. Around 85 percent of the student body comes from within the region and — more importantly — they stay.  The latest figures show that one out of every 20 people who live in the region is a Sacramento State alumnus.

It’s also clear that Sacramento State trains a large proportion of the region’s workforce and very often its leaders as well. Recently, Sacramento’s police chief, fire chief, district attorney and many others could be counted among the university’s graduates. They were “Made at Sac State” as the university would like to say. Sac State’s students and graduates work in the areas that are important to all of us. They are the medical providers in our hospitals, the teachers in our schools, the professionals that keep us safe and the business leaders and entrepreneurs who are leading our economy.

In addition, the economic impact the university has on the region and state is significant. According to the latest report, Sacramento State alumni are more than 200,000 strong and generate an estimated economic impact of $7 billion on the California economy. Moreover, operations at Sac State produce an economic impact on our local economy of around $1 billion annually and generate about $36 million in tax revenues from jobs associated with the university. Clearly, from an economic perspective, the university is vital to the Sacramento region.

There are clear indications that the region is showing signs of growth and revitalization. The new Golden 1 Center is only one of many new projects that will have a positive impact on Sacramento’s overall economy. Real estate sales are up. The establishment of the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council and the continued activities of the Metro Chamber and ethnic chambers of commerce point to a robust and positive economic outlook. However, most would agree that our core necessity is a talented and prepared workforce. That’s where Sac State and other higher education institutions will play a critical role — and that’s why they deserve your support.

Investment in higher education is essential if businesses hope to grow and compete successfully at home and abroad. Supporting reinvestment in higher education is synonymous with supporting efforts to grow large and small business enterprises within the region and improve our local economy.  Here’s what you can do:

  • Support continued funding for Sac State and public higher education at a level that will allow for the delivery of a quality education without raising tuition.
  • Hire our students. It’s good for business and ultimately it keeps local talent local.
  • Provide internships. It’s easy to do and pays off.  Sac State operates the California Intern Network, calinterns.org. For more than 30 years, the statewide program has placed student interns in state agencies and private sector companies related to their field of study. The students gain valuable experience, and employers use the program to develop their workforce.  
  • Get involved with Sac State. Attend events, support activities in which you have an interest and learn about your university.  The university offers a full array of programs in the arts and sciences as well as many programs for young people at the K-12 level.
  • Support the university and its initiatives. For example, the Graduation Initiative being championed by Sac State president Robert Nelsen seeks to graduate students in four years. The Destination 2010 initiative resulted in campus construction projects that yielded $270 million for the local economy, including 1,765 new jobs and $7.5 million in new tax revenue.

Supporting the university is good for the region, the economy and for all of us. Having led Sacramento State for the past 12 years, I have come to truly understand the importance of the university to the Sacramento region. Its mission is to provide the best quality education for all qualified students in the region and state. Let’s do our part to ensure that Sac State continues to fulfill its mission.