Editorials

Poverty engulfs the San Joaquin Valley. Education is the way to remove that dark cloud

The San Joaquin Valley is one of the nation’s poorest regions. The best prescription for improving that difficult reality is increasing the education level of Valley citizens so they can gain good employment and wages.

To that end, an important conversation was held at Fresno State Wednesday under the heading of California Priorities. Education was the focus, or more specifically, how to make education affordable and accessible. The event was held by The Bee and was sponsored by Fresno State and the State Center Community College District. It was part of the Influencer series sponsored by The Bee’s parent, the McClatchy Co.

The session featured local and state education leaders like Timothy White, chancellor of the 23-campus California State University system. He is a Fresno State graduate who fondly recalled his time in the 1960s attending the university.

The student body today is much more ethnically diverse than then, and has many more young adults who are the first in their families to attend college.

Another difference today from when White walked the campus: Fresno State has become an impacted university, meaning it cannot accept all the students who qualify for admission. This school year, Fresno State had to turn away 8,000 students because it did not have enough staff to teach them.

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That’s a big problem because a denial means that student has to put education on hold. Or, he or she may not even continue to seek a degree, settling for work not requiring a bachelor’s. As White noted, jobs where a high-school diploma is sufficient are becoming scarcer, as the information age requires a higher level of computer literacy and tech-honed skills.

Fresno State President Joseph Castro sought a 5 percent hike in enrollment; this last year he could only receive a 2.75 percent bump. So Fresno State will be able to enroll about 600 more students in the spring semester. He wants to renew the 5 percent request in the next budget.

Castro and Carole Goldsmith, president of Fresno City College, both emphasized money is needed to improve facilities at their campuses, as maintenance funding has been hard to get in recent years.

Besides the need for funding, the other pressing demand of local educators is for Valley citizens to lobby elected officials for more support for schools. Goldsmith jokingly called it “storming Sacramento” to make clear Valley needs must not be pushed aside.

The California Priorities summit neatly reminded those in attendance just how critical education is to the present and future success of the Valley — and state as well. White said 10 percent of the work force in California today are CSU graduates.

Valley legislators must work hard to get a fair share of the education dollars that are available. From early childhood education to graduating from Fresno State, schooling is the best means to lift the region out of its time-worn poverty.

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