Don’t take the LAO’s report seriously, Stockton still deserves a CSU campus

Last week, a highly anticipated report was released by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) that was supposed to be the first concrete step towards a four-year university in Stockton, the largest city in the state without one. The study was spearheaded by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman who has become a champion for bringing a state institution to our city. Local advocates began to dream about an ideal location for a new campus, and I even mused about the same topic in this post.

The LAO, on the other hand, turned out to have other ideas. The report published last week concluded that a new CSU or UC campus was not needed, delivering a gut check to proponents of a Stockton campus. It turns out, according to the LAO, that there’s plenty of space available at existing campuses statewide to meet student demand for the next ten years.

At first glance, the LAO conclusions might appear to be a death kneel to our CSU Stockton dreams. But there is an important caveat I think most people don’t realize: the LAO does not decide on whether or not to build new campuses, and their conclusions—while technically correct—do not account for several factors that overwhelmingly support the creation of a new CSU here in Stockton.

The big reason why we should not take the LAO conclusions seriously? Because they only examined one thing: capacity.

The LAO conclusion that no new CSU/UC campuses are necessary is based solely on the fact that existing universities have the ability to absorb new student demand for the next ten years. Not a peep about the lower levels of college and post grad degree holders in our region, the economic impacts experienced by the communities that host these campuses, or that Stockton is the largest city by far without a campus. The question should not have been whether or not the state should build a new university anywhere, but whether Stockton deserves its own university or not.

To be fair, the LAO did exactly what was asked of them in this report, which was to assess enrollment demand and campus capacity. This is according to the authorizing legislation (which can be found on page 25 of the report). And it’s technically true: there’s enough excess capacity or expansion potential at each state university that we do not need another campus anywhere in the state to accommodate the number of students who would like to attend a UC or CSU.

But this conclusion skips several important questions that should be answered, specifically, is the Stockton metro area served well enough by existing CSU or UC facilities? And by this, I do not mean “can everyone graduating high school or transferring from Stockton fit at CSU Stanislaus?” but, rather, “is the area served at the same level as other regions in our state that currently enjoy the presence of a public university?” The answer to this question is clearly “no.”

CSU STAN

University Park in Stockton hosts a CSU Stanislaus satellite campus, serving just 189 students according to the LAO

To say Stockton is adequately served by CSU Stanislaus—which is what the report essentially concludes—is like saying that South Stockton is adequately served by Lodi Unified. That is to say, just because something is close by doesn’t mean it serves the region’s needs. There is no economic benefit provided to Stockton when students locally decide to go to CSU Stanislaus or Sacramento State. Students must commute to these campuses, spend money in these cities, and many times are lured to other regions upon graduation. Their faculties don’t live in Stockton, and we derive no cultural or communal benefits from the presence of these institutions. In these terms, there is no UC/CSU campus that provides Stockton with any benefits.

Another issue I have with the LAO study is that in the author’s eyes, all of these campuses are interchangeable. This is a big oversight, ignoring the workforce needs of each region. Assemblywoman Eggman has stated that a Stockton campus could be a “Cal Poly” type of university that provides a focus on engineering and sciences. Professionals in these more technical fields of study are in much shorter supply in the Central Valley, and the presence of a Cal Poly Stockton would go a long ways towards both correcting this imbalance and offering local students an opportunity to pursue these disciplines within their own community. Not to mention, programs at this campus could be tailored to other areas of need for our region like health care.

With regards to students, the report does provide one very important data point that advocates should use in their argument: the presence of CSU campuses dramatically increases CSU enrollment in other Central Valley counties. According to the LAO findings, Fresno County had 20% of its high school graduates enrolling at a CSU, the second highest percentage in the state behind only San Francisco at 21%. Stanislaus County ranks fifth at 16%, and Kern County (home to Bakersfield) is twelfth on the list, meeting the statewide average at 14%. San Joaquin County is at 11%. The difference here is that Fresno, Turlock, and Bakersfield have a CSU campus, while Stockton does not. Given this information, it is reasonable to conclude that bringing a CSU to Stockton would significantly increase college enrollment of our high school graduates, a very important goal for a region that struggles with educational attainment.

lao-excerpt

Excerpt from LAO report

All of this begs the question: why wasn’t the LAO directed to look at Stockton and its needs specifically? My guess is that Assemblywoman Eggman needed support for the legislation to authorize the study, and in order to get that, the legislation had to be broad and not specific to Stockton. Had the study came back concluding that a new campus was necessary, that would have given the Assemblywoman more firepower—along with the other topics mentioned here– in advocating for the campus to be in Stockton.

At the end of the day, the LAO conclusions are not binding. I worked for the federal counterpart to the LAO (the Government Accountability Office) for three years in Washington DC, and if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that politicians ignore the results of these kinds of reports routinely. It’s up to the political will of our local elected officials to continue to push for a campus. Thankfully, I do believe we have strong leadership that can get the job done, one LAO report isn’t going to stop them.

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Categories: Community Commentary

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

3 Comments on “Don’t take the LAO’s report seriously, Stockton still deserves a CSU campus”

  1. Dan Cort
    January 25, 2017 at 10:09 am #

    Well written David.

  2. January 25, 2017 at 10:30 am #

    Good post. I agree that this report will have little long-run influence. Unfortunately, “study bills” are often ineffective as scope and framing gets confused through the legislative process. In some ways, I think this LAO report will help the community makes it case more effectively by giving it a clear view of the main counter-arguments.

  3. Christian Burkin
    January 25, 2017 at 4:21 pm #

    It is essentially correct that the statewide scope was necessary for the study to be approved. In order to budget authorization for the study, it was necessary to win support from legislators representing areas who were also interested in securing a new CSU campus. There is also advantage in being able to demonstrate relative over-service in other regions, which was demonstrated by the study.

    The LAO was asked to analyze more than just capacity; that isn’t to say their product was not responsive to the request, just that the scope established by the budget request was greater and we differ on the the way way demographic analysis was interpreted.

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