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Op-ed: California legislature must invest in equitable access to UC

By Sophia Siqueiros, Madison Kellum, Jenna Tooley, Ragini Srinivasan, Kyle Schmidt, and Alexis Bembry

June 1, 2022 9:32 p.m.

This year, over 200,000 California students may be barred from receiving essential resources crucial to promoting college readiness and university success. Much to our dismay, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s May revision to his 2022-2023 budget proposal does not include any new funding for the University of California’s Student Academic Preparation and Educational Partnerships programs.

The SAPEP portfolio comprises 13 programs, such as the Early Academic Outreach Program and the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement program, which are designed to close achievement and college access gaps by assisting low-income, first-generation and marginalized K-12 and community college students in improving their reading, writing and math skills.

Now that California is entering the new fiscal year with an expected record-smashing $97.5 billion surplus, we call on the state legislature to make last year’s one-time investment of $22.5 million for SAPEP programs an ongoing appropriation. It is imperative that the legislature invest in education amid the Newsom administration’s failure to promote and safeguard equitable access to the UC for all Californians.

When SAPEP was first created in 1997, it received $18.1 million in funds from both the state of California and the UC. By 2000, its allocation had risen to $85.2 million. However, as a result of budget shortfalls and recessions, SAPEP funding has sunk to a mere $24.6 million – of which less than half is provided by the state. SAPEP program budgets are stretched paper thin, as inflation has further dwindled the purchasing power of these funds.

SAPEP programs are a cost-effective, worthwhile investment. SAPEP programs have historically led to reductions in achievement gaps and increases in academic preparation levels for target student groups enrolled in prekindergarten to postgraduate education.

Increasing SAPEP funding is vital to ensuring the academic and professional success of students from historically underserved communities across the state. The outreach and retention services supported by SAPEP help remedy the lack of diversity on UC campuses by supporting thousands of new students who would otherwise not enroll in higher education or drop out.

After the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996 that banned affirmative action in California, underrepresented students of color, particularly Black and Latinx students, admitted to the UC system decreased by at least 12%, with UCLA and UC Berkeley reporting more than a 60% drop. Since the passage of Proposition 209, African American enrollment at UCLA has dropped by 57% and has only recently begun to return to the 1995 levels.

Newsom and the California legislature must make it a top priority to give SAPEP programs the means to continue empowering marginalized students of color, especially in the wake of a global pandemic and the failure of Proposition 16 to reinstate affirmative action in California. Long-term success in higher education requires adequate preparation and aid, regardless of any student’s background.

This success should be an ongoing budget priority for Sacramento lawmakers.

Sophia Siqueiros is the director of state relations for the USAC Office of the External Vice President and a fourth-year political science student.

Madison Kellum is a state relations staffer for the USAC Office of the External Vice President and a second-year political science student.

Jenna Tooley is a state relations staffer for the USAC Office of the External Vice President and a first-year political science student.

Ragini Srinivasan is a state relations staffer for the USAC Office of the External Vice President and a second-year mathematics/economics and political science student.

Kyle Schmidt is a state relations staffer for the USAC Office of the External Vice President and a third-year political science student.

Alexis Bembry is a state relations staffer for the USAC Office of the External Vice President and a first-year economics and public affairs student.

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