Report on higher education 2020

Report On Higher Education 2020

The new

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I know people are exhausted by the phrase new normal. But our experiences in 2020 can, in fact, represent our new normal in positive ways.

2020 taught us that when we must set aside expectations, a new set of possibilities is created. So, while college will look different going forward, its core will always be teaching and learning.

With that in mind, I am committed to making a college education possible for California families no matter what it looks like. I know you are too—Golden State residents hold 345,000 ScholarShare 529 accounts, with a total value of $10.4 billion in assets under management as of September 30, 2020.

Californians have always believed that a willingness to explore new opportunities creates diverse and enriching prospects. So, let’s acknowledge where we are and look toward the future with optimism.

Julio Martinez Signature

Julio Martinez
Executive Director
ScholarShare Investment Board

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This is a picture of a female student participating in an online class. Desktop Version This is a picture of a female student participating in an online class. Mobile Version

2020: Realities

HIGHER EDUCATION IS CRITICAL TO THE U.S. ECONOMY, employing 3 million people and contributing more than $600 billion to the national gross domestic product.1 With over 3.2 million students at 228 colleges, California’s system of higher education is integral to our nation’s economic health.

Given the realities of a global pandemic, California’s public colleges and universities transitioned from lively campuses to virtually empty ones, sending revenues spiraling and costs soaring. The University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) report losses totaling $1.4 billion. California Community Colleges (CCC) estimate they will lose $1 billion over the next year.2

Because a competitive education produces job-ready graduates, California’s colleges and universities are key drivers of U.S economic success. That means we have a common interest—make California education strong.

California Colleges Headcount3

This graph provides student headcounts for CCC, CSU, UC, and private California colleges.
Fast Facts

1 in 10 California employees is a CSU grad4

UC is California’s third largest employer5

CCC trains 80% of California firefighters, law enforcement personnel, and EMTs6

1Paxson, NY Times, April 26, 2020
2Ackerman and Levine, CAL Matters, June 13, 2020
3Community College League of CA, 2020
4CSU Fact Book, Academic Year 2019–20
5Watanabe, LA Times, April 2, 2020
6Ackerman and Levine, CAL Matters, June 13, 2020

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Big Challenges

1. Covid

COVID-19 UPENDED the landscape of higher education. Not only were colleges and universities forced to transition to classes online, but they also faced concerns around enrollment, finances, as well as student health and support. Of course, the big question was whether to open campuses for the next academic year. As updates about the virus and its death toll arrived from state and federal health agencies, campuses struggled to devise strategies to respond. UC President Napolitano said, “I expect almost all of our campuses will be some sort of hybrid, where some courses will remain online.” CSU President White confirmed that they would “mostly remain online.” CCC Chancellor Oakley said, “By and large we’re going to be online or in some remote platform fields.”7

2. College Affordability

CALIFORNIA INVESTS $2 BILLION ANNUALLY on state-based aid programs administered by the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC).8 And while the primary form of student aid is the Cal Grant, gaps in the program mean thousands of students and families shoulder a large burden of the cost of college. The majority of students eligible for the award do not receive it—and even when a student does receive the award, only an average of 15% can be used for costs like food and housing after tuition and fees are paid. Due in part to these disparities, student debt in California has more than doubled in the past decade.9

Undergraduate California
Resident Tuition Costs

This graph compares undergraduate California resident tuition costs for the 2020 academic year compared to the 2019 academic year.

These tuition costs represent the estimated costs of attending one year of college as a full-time student at each respective institution. These estimates do not include the cost of additional campus-based fees. Your total costs will vary depending on your personal expenses and the campus you attend.

This picture depicts two diverse students.
3. Socioeconomic Diversity

AMERICA'S PRESENT RACIAL RECKONING compels California to reconsider how it supports each and every college-bound student. Of course, California’s education system serves a diverse student population, however, achievement gaps persist—only 48% of students who enter a community college complete a degree, disproportionately impacting minority students as a result of enrollment inequities between racial groups and earning disparities.13 Add to that the fact that 71% of returning students said they lost income due to COVID-19 in a recent survey of 76,000 California students, and it’s no surprise financial aid appeals are rising—as much as 36% more in some instances.14, 15

7Alpert,, June 7, 2020
8The Campaign for College Opportunity, April 2020
9Granville, The Century Foundation, January 22, 2020
10CCC,, 2020, 2020, 2020
13Chetty, Friedman, Suez, Turner, Yagan, Opportunity Insights, February 2020
14CA Student Aid Commission, 2020
15Arredondo, Cal Matters, July 22, 2020

This is a picture of a male college student taking notes in class.

California will not waste this crisis.
We are a resilient people and our residents will make a way to greatness.

Onward & Upward

WHEN WE LOOK BACK ON 2020 and recognize it as a watershed moment for education, you can be sure California will have been a force for educational reform for its residents—and for the entire country.

A Little Relief

California colleges initially received over $1.3 billion in federal support from the CARES Act. On March 4, 2020, Governor Newsom announced that private student loan providers agreed to extend relief to over 1.1 million Californians with student loans. He also issued an executive order to stop debt collectors from garnishing COVID-19-related financial assistance, meaning students struggling to make loan payments are eligible for forbearance without negative credit reporting.16

California will not waste this crisis.
We are a resilient people and our residents will make a way to greatness.

CARES Act Fund Distribution17

This pie chart shows the distribution of CARES ACT funds among California Colleges
Out with the Old

In a move that reverberated throughout higher education, UC suspended SAT and ACT testing requirements for applicants until 2024 and entirely for in-state applicants by 2025, a decision their board believes will be fairer for both poor and minority students.18

Defeating Discrimination

Sixty CCC presidents formed an alliance to fight racism called California Community College Equity Leadership Alliance. Members will work with the USC Race and Equity Center to train their respective employees on topics like hiring and retaining faculty of color, fostering inclusive classrooms, and integrating race across the curriculum.19

"There is amazing momentum for righting the wrongs caused by centuries of systemic racism in our country."

John Perez, Chair of the UC Board of Regents and former Assembly Speaker

Justice for All

Amid the national uproar over racism and police brutality, CSU voted to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement in the first change to their general education curriculum in over 40 years. And, the Governor mandated this graduation requirement into state law, taking effect in the 2021–22 academic year.20

"[This decision] will empower our students to meet this moment in our nation’s history, giving them the knowledge, broad perspectives and skills needed to solve society’s most pressing problems."

Timothy P. White, CSU Chancellor

Online in Time

In the early days of COVID-19, CCC brought the largest higher education system in the country from offering less than a quarter of its instruction online to nearly all online in a matter of weeks, altering the fabric of higher education in California for the coming years.21

Making Law

This September, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 898 into law. This bill will ensure all the funds saved for your kid’s college education can’t be touched by creditors, providing a measure of security for ScholarShare 529 participants.22

Borrower Bill of Rights

Landmark student loan borrower protection bill AB 376, also known as the student loan borrower “bill of rights," was signed by Governor Newsom, establishing enforceable, statewide industry standards for student loan servicers and protecting student loan borrowers against unfair, deceptive, and predatory practices by servicers and lenders. 23

Cal Grant recipients were renewed
for the 2020–21 academic year.24

19Weissman, Diverse Issues in Higher Ed., June 11, 2020
20WTOP News, July 22, 2020
21CCC, 2020 State of the System Report, 2020
22Symon, CA Globe, June 14, 2020
23Minsky, Forbes, September 25, 2020
24Caldwell, CA Student Aid Commission, June 17, 2020

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College Countdown

OVER 110,000 SCHOLARSHARE 529 ACCOUNTS for students on the cusp of transitioning to college have prompted ScholarShare 529 to launch a website offering just-in-time information about this exciting stage in a student’s life. Covering topics like affording college, using your 529, college admissions, student life, academic success, and parenting, College Countdown works with industry professionals from across the country to equip you for this exciting season in life. Check out the site…

Parent Advisor Council

COLLEGE COUNTDOWN'S PARENT ADVISOR COUNCIL (PAC) is comprised of fellow 529 account owners in their third and fourth year of redeeming their 529 savings. Their kids made the transition to college and now they’re eager to connect with you. Go to College Countdown to meet the PAC member closest to you.

Parents Who
Have Been There,
Done That


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Your State Representative

The ScholarShare 529 College Savings Plan provides all account owners with contact information for their state legislators annually, as required by law. If you would like to contact your state representative about your ScholarShare 529 account, visit to find the appropriate address and phone number, or contact our office at