$50 Million in Innovation Awards Given to CA Universities and Colleges

By: Mohsin Khan

Two weeks ago, the California Department of Finance distributed the Awards for Innovation in Higher Education to multiple university and college campuses across the state. The 14 applicants chosen split into three groups, and received up to $5 million in one-time resources and bonus funding for the year.

Established with the creation of the Budget Act of 2014, the program distributed $50 million to schools chosen from a pool of applicants, recognizing those that made an effort to change their existing policies in order to allow more students within their districts to access higher education. The schools were chosen with three criteria: the increased number of bachelor’s degrees awarded, the refinements made within their programs and the ease of transfer into other institutions of higher education by working with the state’s other education systems.

The total number of applicants was 58. Among those included all 10 UC campuses. UCLA, the only UC recipient, was awarded $2.5 million for its work involving partnered schools and efforts made within K-12 education to increase the rate at which California’s high school students graduate college-ready. Although it didn’t receive a financial award, UC Riverside was also recognized for its collaboration with CSU San Bernardino for a new policy in nine high school districts that requires students to take four years of math.

Another notable example is Santa Ana College, which was the only Orange County community college to be selected. It received the maximum award of $5 million for working together with UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton in order to create large amounts of transfer-ready students. The committee also acknowledged their work with the Santa Ana Unified School District in their effort to ready high school students for college level work in English. Historically, SAUSD has served one of the nation’s largest Spanish-speaking communities. On average, only 26 percent of students graduating from the district have taken college coursework before graduating high school.

The awards, created by Gov. Jerry Brown and included in last year’s budget, have been met with a large positive reception for rewarding institutions that are setting good examples for others to follow. They come amidst the ongoing discussions regarding California’s higher education budget between him and UC President Janet Napolitano.

“The innovations we are celebrating today are already helping to maintain and expand access to higher education for California’s students,” said Michael Cohen, chair of the wards committee and director of the Department of Finance. He said that award recognizes the hard work, innovation and creativity of college and university campuses in improving the success of their students.

Currently, the chosen institutions are being evaluated by the committee in order to determine the proposed usage of the funds. The funds’ impact and usage over the course of the next year will be closely followed.