Since the new year began, I have been asked one question so often that I decided I would just answer it here. As I have seen colleagues and visited campuses around the state, I’ve been asked regularly about what my hopes are for higher education in California from our newly-elected Governor Newsom.
Though many of you who read this do not live in California, I find that my thinking on this question reaches across state boundaries.
Like many states, California has a number of education-related funding initiatives. But, also like many other states, our initiatives are not structured intentionally to address the immense racial disparities in our higher education system. I hope to see our Governor determine who is really benefitting from these initiatives and whether they’re reducing racial disparities at all.
Though California does have a student equity policy-on the books since 1994-it was only finally funded in 2014. But there have been many flaws in its implementation, unfortunately. Its existence, however, at least provides the opportunity for improvement-an opportunity that I hope our new Governor fully embraces. I hope our policy-the first of its kind in the nation-can one day be seen as a model for other states to use.
Data transparency in higher ed is a problem many states are grappling with, and here it is no different. The California State University system offers no data on student success by race and ethnicity. It’s difficult to imagine no one is tracking it, so we can only assume that the data is being selectively held back because it doesn’t paint a positive picture for equity. I hope our new Governor pressures the CSU system to reveal this data and much more.
I hope too that the Governor will use his power of appointments to change the racial profile of the UC Board of Trustees, the CSU system Trustees, and the Community College Board of Governors. To effectively champion equity and diversity on our campuses, we need governing bodies that represent that as well.
Finally, I expect the Governor to call out racial bias and ignorance where he sees it-not just in policy, but in policy-makers too. As we work to graduate higher numbers of students, our policy-makers nationwide must work in ways that serve all of our students, not just those easiest served. And as we improve graduation rates, we must never lose sight of the importance of a complete and well-rounded education. Businesses may need more engineers, but our society needs more intelligent, compassionate, and creative people-recent history in this country has made that clear.
I know some of you will tell me I have very high hopes for the new administration in this state. But, to me, it doesn’t feel like I’m asking for that much. Until there is transparency about the hurdles we must overcome nationally and regionally in education, little can be done about them. Strategic higher ed plans need both data and accountability to have any chance of working.
And they also need bold, fearless leaders who embrace equity and are unafraid to call out the issues we face and actually try to solve them. Many of you reading this now are exactly those kinds of people. I hope our new Governor is one as well.
Estela M. Bensimon
Founder/Director, Center for Urban Education