California’s $49B higher ed budget proposal prioritizes worker training

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The leaders of California’s three public postsecondary systems praised the proposal, which is larger than the one Newsom made in January. It includes several large investments in training students to meet the state’s workforce demands.

The plan would invest a one-time $1 billion between 2021-22 and 2022-23 to establish a career development program for the state systems. This initiative would help link campuses with employers, which would provide students with “learning-aligned opportunities” related to their fields of study.

Another $1 billion, which comes from federal relief money, would support displaced workers who want to restart their education, reskill or start a business. 

Converting Humboldt State into a polytechnic school is one of the boldest parts of the proposal. It follows the California State University system’s request last November that the school study the idea. Polytechnic institutions focus heavily on STEM fields, which Humboldt State already does.

The change would bring in more federal research dollars and attract higher-paid faculty who teach STEM programs, boosting the local economy, said Andrew Koricich, a higher education professor at Appalachian State University, in North Carolina. His research specializes in regional and rural institutions.

The proposal offers $433 million in one-time funding for capital improvements, which would encompass renovations of science and laboratory facilities, and $25 million in recurring money to support new academic programs, such as in cybersecurity.

“We can’t overlook the sheer capacity-building that kind of money can do,” Koricich said.

Newsom also wants to give tens of millions of dollars for workforce initiatives at community colleges. The Biden administration, including Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, has said two-year schools are crucial in helping the national economy recuperate after the pandemic.

State officials nationwide, meanwhile, have attempted to tap into workforce development strategies to assist with pandemic recovery. For instance, at least 20 states last summer signed onto a program with the American Association of Community Colleges and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, helping to identify strategies for retraining workers. 

Newsom is also proposing $4 billion in one-time funding split between 2021-22 and 2022-23 to create a grant program expanding access to lower-cost student housing. The state would give its higher ed systems money to build residences or acquire commercial property that would be prioritized for low-income and underrepresented students.

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