12/06/2013 01:48 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2014

Reinvesting in California's Postsecondary Education

It's time for a new direction for higher education in California.

The shift is long overdue. We were once the leader, the model in higher education that every other state looked at and strived to be. But those times have changed, and not at all for the better.

As it stands, California is failing behind our neighboring states and nations when it comes to educating our students and preparing them for the workforce. And each moment we wait for any kind of change, the gap between us and those countries or states investing more into their postsecondary education grows.

California is 25th in the nation on the number of adults who have a Bachelor's degree. Only 30.4 percent of adults in California hold degrees. We're immediately behind South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin and not even close to the number of degrees obtained in Massachusetts, New York or Virginia, the top three states.

What's more is that internationally, nations like Japan, Korea, Norway and the United Kingdom have more adults obtaining Bachelor's degrees than the United States as a whole. Our country has 33 percent of adults ages 25-34 graduating with Bachelor's degree; in California there is only 30.7 percent of adults with those degrees.

California is below average, and that needs to change.

We need a reinvestment in education, which includes looking at new ways to offer classes and the structure in which we offer them. But the answer is not simply increasing state funding for schools or raising tuition to pay for all of this. When nearly half the graduates throughout the country do not feel as if college prepared them for work, something in how and what we deliver to students needs change to meet the needs of the world we live in.

If we do not do something today we'll fall farther behind. Right now, we are projected to fall 1 million graduates short by 2025. That is unacceptable. In a state as populated, intelligent and innovative as ours, why are we not capable of providing the minimum number of qualified graduates needed for our current businesses? This needs to be addressed and it needs to be addressed now.

Pumping more money into our universities to continue to operate the way they have cannot be the answer. We need a clear plan to address the needs of our students and for the job climate we live in.

We need systemic changes in all of our postsecondary institutions. We need all three systems from our community colleges to California State Universities and University of California to work together.

We need to offer better ways for students to take credits at one college or university and ensure it transfers to another college or university in our state.

The majority of our college-aged students or working adults are enrolled in community colleges or in one of the 23 California State University campuses. Because of this, it is up to us as a state to ensure our universities adapt and change to meet the needs of our changing demographics and the needs for a well-trained workforce.

Increasingly, our Latino population is growing. The Hispanic population, for example, is expected to grow in California from the 16 percent it was in 1980 to 48 percent by 2060. Minority populations are expected to grow in that same time frame from 29 percent to 70 percent (found on page 11 here) but they continue to have lower number of students obtaining degrees than their white or Asian peers. Many of these populations live around or below the poverty level, which means we must better serve these populations.

It's no secret that the amount of money the state provides to our higher education institution has dwindled dramatically over the past decade, but monetary fixes cannot be our only way.

Times have changed, priorities have changed, new investments and new priorities need to emerge in order for California universities to thrive.

Because of these staggering facts, this week, along with the Committee for Economic Development, I have released a policy statement this month, calling for action to address this critical need.

I don't have all the answers. But with the release of this policy statement, we are beginning a yearlong conversation with educators, business leaders and the people of California to find solutions. California can't settle for average and together we can find solutions to put California back where it belongs at the forefront of higher education.