By: Kelsey Rugani, CORO Fellow 2012

I am soaking up my last few weeks of freedom. Freedom from what you ask? Paying back my student loans. June 12, 2012 marks my first payment’s due date, and considering my 30-year-old sister will still be paying off her loans until 2014, I am understandably not excited.

I will have it worse off than my sister, too. Since she graduated in 2004, CSU student fees have increased 191% meaning more loans and more debt. After looking over the May Revision of the Governor’s Budget, though, the worst is still ahead for California’s college students.

Depending on the success of Governor Brown’s tax measure, the UC and CSU systems may lose $250 million. I can’t even fathom what student debt will look like if this happens. With the housing and financial crash of 2008 still looming over us – and with a recovery in the housing market still at least two years away – I’m ready to talk about real solutions to these problems. I’m much more ready for solutions than I am for June 12th.

Creating Jobs and Getting Californians Back to Work

According to a Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics study completed at UC Berkeley, fostering economic growth was one of the key solutions to pulling us out of the Great Recession. Fostering economic growth takes many forms including job creation and reinvesting in education.

In March 2011, California ranked 50th in job creation – dead last in the country. There’s hope in leading sectors, however, such as technology, tourism, international trade and the entertainment industry. California is lucky to have the Bay Area when it comes to technology. Not only did the innovation sector of the Bay Area account for 18.4% of totally employment – the highest in the nation-but the region is projected to add more than 1.2 million jobs between 2010 and 2014 growing faster than the state and the nation. Seven out of the top ten social media companies are headquarted in the Bay Area including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yelp. As the economy attempts to recover, it will be dependent on the digital economy to provide jobs, innovation, and revenue.

California’s Green Economy

California’s green economy has also fared much better compared to other sectors. It has grown 41% more between 1995 and 2010 than the rest of the economy. Demand for clean energy jobs continues to expand seeing as jobs in this sector have expanded 8.3% per year between 2003 and 2010. GoSolarSF is a prime example. Since being established in 2008, the number of solar roofs in the city has quadrupled, 28 companies brought their solar business to the city, and over 450 new green jobs were created. These jobs are high-wage jobs for skilled workers with educational backgrounds in STEM fields.

Smart Investments Means Investing in Smart People

Speaking of education – the time is now to stop treating our public higher education system like it’s expendable. If it stops receiving state assistance,it won’t survive. And the future of our golden state is at stake. The pressure put on students and their families to pay student fees and all the fees associated with college is becoming insurmountable. What the state doesn’t realize is that the UC, CSU and Community College students are smart people to invest in.

Californians-with-a-degree_0 UC and CSU graduates return $12 billion to the state annually and for every one dollar the state invests in higher education, it will receive a return on investment of $4.50. Californians who have college degrees earn $1,340,000, more on average over their lifetimes, than their peers who gain a high school diploma. Also, for those in-demand green jobs, the CSU graduates 45% of the state’s engineers.

Why are we taking money away from systems that are giving us so much? Public higher education not only provides the state with revenue, it provides the state with hope. That’s why I’m supporting Speaker Perez’s Middle Class Scholarship that will make college more affordable for students whose families make under $150,000 a year but do not qualify for federal assistance. Please join Reset San Francisco founder Phil Ting, thousands of students and parents, and me in supporting the Middle Class Scholarship Act. You can sign the petition here.