Education: The Blueprint for Change
When it comes to being an architect of change, I don't know of any more effective blueprint than education.
It opens our eyes to the magic and possibility of the world and gives us the knowledge and tools we need to make something happen for ourselves and our communities.
When I was a young girl growing up on Salamis Island off the coast of Greece, I didn't know anything about how to escape the poverty I saw and make a life for myself. But my mother did.
Despite the fact no girl on my island had ever gone to college, my mother was determined that I would.
I always did well in school and loved to solve math and science problems even at a young age, so she insisted we move to Athens where I could attend a comprehensive high school to be eligible for college.
I graduated from the National Technical University in 1977 with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.
With the help of some very supportive mentors, I went on to earn my master's and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering from UCLA.
Who knows where I would be today had it not been for my mother's help and belief in my ability to attend the university in Greece, which was free to all Greek citizens?
I doubt very seriously I would be where I am now, chancellor of the University of California, Davis, one of the best public research universities in the nation, if not the world.
Even today, my mom, who is 86 years old and knows very little about what it takes to manage a University like UC Davis, always tells me that I can make it. She reminds me that I have to be strong, determined and fearless.
UC Davis has more than 32,000 high-achieving undergraduate, graduate and professional school students, world-class faculty and an annual research budget that exceeds three quarters of a billion dollars.
Our university is turning out the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs who will sustain our economy.
Our research is contributing solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems, from how to grow more food without harming the environment to discovering dramatic new ways to detect and treat cancer.
It is a tremendous privilege and blessing to be involved in such meaningful work. I want nothing more than to see all qualified students have some of the same opportunities I had.
If access to a first-rate education is key to unlocking one's potential, which I believe it is, we have to do everything in our power to make that education available to as many deserving students as possible.
For decades, there was no place in the world that was better at this than California.
The state's Master Plan for Higher Education was approved by Gov. Pat Brown and the Legislature in 1960. It still stands tall as a brilliant and egalitarian vision that established a coherent system of higher education in California so virtually everyone would have access to an affordable college education.
But for the past decade or more, we have diminished that vision as we disinvest in public higher education. I understand the reasons why. As California's demographics evolve, there are more demands on the state's limited purse strings.
I doubt any legislator or governor has enjoyed cutting state funds to our public universities and colleges, but they also knew tuition increases could offset some of the funding reductions.
As a consequence, UC has been cut nearly $900 million over the past four years. UC Davis alone has lost more than $150 million in state funding.
In fact, our 10-campus UC system is funded today at the same levels as it was in 1997, despite the fact we now have 75,000 more students.
We have cut programs and staff. We've become more efficient and centralized, saving tens of millions of dollars. We have become more aggressive about private fundraising.
But these measures only go so far. Since 2007-08, tuition has increased 84 percent. Including room and board, the total annual cost for a California resident to attend UC Davis now exceeds $32,000.
We work hard to find aid and scholarships for as many of our students as possible and are doing better all the time. In fact, nearly three quarters of our students receive some form of financial aid.
But the sad truth remains: we are in danger of losing the ability to provide access to a high quality UC education to tens of thousands deserving California students.
The November election ballot contains a measure, Proposition 30, which is sponsored by Gov. Jerry Brown and carries potentially profound implications for California higher education and for our students.
The UC Regents have said that if Prop 30 passes, we will be able to hold the line on immediate tuition and fee increases.
The governor has said the additional revenue could also help return stability to both California and higher education and begin to renew the kind of support UC has received in the past.
Everyone understands this is not a perfect solution. Opponents say that small businesses will be harmed and that Proposition 30 raises taxes on all Californians, not just the wealthy. Supporters say it will help stabilize the state’s finances and prevent further deep cuts to public education.
However, there is no question that Proposition 30’s failure would result in the loss of an additional $250 million in state funding to both the CU and California State University systems. UC Davis’ share of the cuts could be $40 million.
To offset that loss, we would have to hit students with another annual tuition increase of roughly $2,000 or cut 285 faculty or 535 staff.
Any of those options would hurt our students and further erode the quality of public higher education in the nation's largest state, the state that drives our national economy in so many ways.
I can’t tell you how to vote, but I know I was blessed to have access to a top-flight education. It opened doors for me I never knew existed and transformed my life.
It would be a national tragedy if those doors slammed shut for today's students and future generations.
As chancellor of the University of California, Davis, Linda Katehi oversees its teaching, research and public service mission and holds faculty appointments in electrical and computer engineering and women and gender studies. She holds 19 U.S. patents and is a former chairwoman of the President’s Committee for the National Medal of Science. She was also a top administrator at the Universities of Illinois, Michigan and Purdue.