06/29/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Keeping the Promise of California's Master Plan for Higher Education

Fifty years ago, visionary leaders created California's Master Plan for Higher Education. For decades the master plan provided millions of Californians with opportunities to pursue their academic ambitions and improve their vocational skills. A well-trained and educated workforce entered the private sector and enhanced California's reputation as a state on the cutting edge of the future, creating new and exciting industries, powering our economic growth and engaging in trailblazing research.

Now, however, our higher education system is reeling. The visionaries are gone and our community colleges and public universities are bruised by cuts, furloughs and ever-increasing fee hikes that threaten affordability and access for students across California.

Stories about this decline can be found on campus after campus. A University of California, San Diego professor worries about students' inability to get into the classes they need for graduation. California State University, Sacramento officials consider turning away qualified students because more people want to enroll than the university has funding to handle. A CSU student concludes the system is creating a generation of student debtors.

A report this month by the Public Policy Institute of California finds that the state is confronting two main crises in higher education: budget cutbacks and an education skills gap. By 2025, the state will have a shortage of one million college educated workers relative to demand unless we substantially increase rates of college enrollment and graduation.

Yet with all this daunting news, we spend more on prisons than we do on all three higher education systems combined - a black mark on the Golden State.

There's a better way. Tens of thousands of Californians have marched on college campuses and city streets to save higher education. My bill, AB 656 - the Fair Share for Fair Tuition bill - will generate almost $2 billion a year for our community colleges and public universities. It would levy a 12.5 percent extraction fee on oil companies. California is currently the only major oil producing state that does not impose an extraction fee on oil companies. Even former Governors Sarah Palin of Alaska and George W. Bush of Texas both levied oil fees and used them to help fund higher education in their states. Now is the time for California to join the rest of the nation.

Big Oil has experienced record profits in recent years. For example, Exxon-Mobil earned a $45.2 billion profit just two years ago, the most ever by a publicly-traded U.S. company. AB 656 will redirect a small portion of that huge profit to the place California needs it most to secure a prosperous future - higher education.

Our state's colleges and universities generate billions of dollars in economic activity and attract billions more in research dollars that fuel our economy and provide good-paying jobs to thousands of workers. They also educate and train our workforce and, because of all this, poll after poll shows the public supporting our universities.

Join the movement to support higher education in California and recommit our great state to investing in the Master Plan for Higher Education. To date, 75,000 supporters have signed cards and over 12,000 people have registered their support for AB 656 by joining

Join us on today or sign our online petition to help California keep the promise of the Master Plan for Higher Education.

Alberto Torrico is the Chair of the Select Committee on Prison Reform and Rehabilitation as well as candidate for California Attorney General. For additional information, visit: