|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, June 21, 2004
Ventura County Star 6-18-04
Opinion: Investing in education
For Jack Kyser, it just makes good economic sense to support higher education programs that will help provide a skilled, diversified work force to California's business community. He has heard it directly from his contacts throughout Southern California.
"Businesses want someone who has good English skills, has computer skills and math skills and can interface well with people," said Kyser, senior economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.
Providing that kind of training, however, is proving more difficult due to California's ongoing budget problems.
"The community colleges have already been whacked and it's very distressing," he said. "People don't realize the training they're providing."
That training pays off: The higher a person's education, the higher their paycheck.
The average income of year-round, full-time male workers 25 years and older is $34,303, with just a high school diploma, according to year 2000 data from the U.S. Department of Education. The average income is $56,334 for those who earn a bachelor's degree.
College graduates will earn close to $1 million more over their working lifetime than a high school graduate, said Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California.
To bolster the cause for higher education and the benefits to the state's economy, the institute on Thursday released the study, "Eliminating Outreach at the University of California: Program Contributions and the Consequences of their Reduction." It focused on the impact to the state's future work force of proposed cuts to about 35 outreach programs. Those budget decisions could be made within the next week.
While nearly 100,000 students were helped by University of California outreach programs in 2001, funding dropped from $83.9 million then to $19.7 million in 2003, the study reported.
Many of those programs are used to attract multicultural students, something that will be vitally important as the state's population continues to change due to immigration and rising birthrates among Latino, Asian and other cultures.
"These programs have identified qualified students for higher education," Pachon said. "If we don't have outreach programs, you have that potential in the barrios and ghettos being lost, along with those in low-income white neighborhoods."
Tutoring, mentoring, test preparation and college campus visits are some of the outreach programs threatened by efforts to trim the state's $17 billion budget shortfall.
Programs with local ties include Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement and the Puente Project. MESA students statewide earned 74 percent of the engineering baccalaureate degrees awarded to underrepresented students in California, the study reported.
Also, high school students in the Puente Project planned to go on to four-year colleges at nearly double the rate of non-Puente students with the same grades and test scores, according to a student survey.
The institute reported that cuts in the proposed 2004-05 budget will likely:
The study urges state officials to provide funding to at least maintain the infrastructure of effective programs so that additional revenues will not be spent in the future to rebuild the programs from scratch; fund those programs that have already been proved to be effective; and evaluate the efficiency of each outreach program based on its individual objectives because each targets different needs of students.
If the programs go away, businesses will be forced to recruit elsewhere to find that skilled work force.
"We may have to import talent from other states or abroad" to fill high-paying middle- and upper-management positions, Pachon said. "That's not a good recipe when in our own back yard you could have a potential candidate who could do a good job if you caught them early enough."
While the budget crisis is dire, serious thought must be given now to funding programs that will provide the state with an effective work force of the future once the state's economy improves. If it isn't, California will eventually be a state with a healthy budget, but in desperate need of a skilled and diversified work force.
Frank Moraga is The Star's diversity director/diversity writer
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