Colleges Must Avoid Across-the-Board Cuts, Despite Pandemic

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
A new report says states should prioritize higher-ed programs that support low-income students of color, a population that has suffered disproportionately in the pandemic. Photo Credit: Wokandapix / Pixabay

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Budget experts predict California will face multi-billion-dollar deficits in 2022 and beyond as a result of the pandemic, and groups are calling on policymakers to protect higher education.

Places such as community colleges will be key to getting people trained and back to work — but only if they can stay in business. A new report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation cautions against indiscriminate funding cuts.

Gabriella Gomez, deputy director of U.S. policy, advocacy and communications for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said a budget should not be a blunt instrument.

“These cuts, where you ‘slash and burn’ across the board, just don’t work,” she said, “and actually what ends up happening is, there’s tremendous rollback.”

The report calls for a “students-first” approach and functions as a guide for policymakers to support lower-income students of color and adult learners who are retraining after losing their jobs. That means protecting financial aid and prioritizing the community college systems that serve vulnerable populations.

During the Great Recession, California cut $1.5 billion from higher education. Schools had to reduce classes and raise tuition — and, as a result, enrollment still is down more than a decade later. This time, Gomez said, states can do better.

“Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past,” she said. “Let’s actually take what we know from the past and apply it in this context right now.”

The report also suggested that colleges and universities dedicate staffers to helping students finish their degrees, and promote short-term credentials in job fields that are currently in demand.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.