Today, State Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate John Chiang is speaking at UC Berkeley about the power of public investment. As any long-time Berkeley resident knows, California has cut back sharply on its public investment in higher education – ending the system of tuition-free public colleges and universities that enabled generations of Californians to pursue their dreams.

That is why this month, I joined more than 2,500 students in launching Rise California, a new student-led campaign fighting for free college tuition and working to get out the student vote in 2018.

So far, higher education has hardly received a mention from the candidates, despite the concerns of Berkeley students, parents, and educators who face skyrocketing tuition and overwhelming student debt. Here are four questions that every California candidate – whether they’re running for governor or in our local state assembly race – should answer before they earn our vote.

Will you fight for free college tuition?

Today, about half of California students attend public colleges tuition-free, but the “high-tuition/high-aid” model is preventing talented and hardworking students from pursuing college. According to researchers, a $1,000 increase in tuition is associated with a drop in campus diversity of nearly 6%. Unless we expand access to public higher education, California will face a shortage of 1 million college graduates required for jobs by 2025. As the UC and CSU systems move forward with plans to raise tuition yet again, we need more students speaking out about how tuition hikes are affecting them.

Will you protect students from student loan debt?

In the United States, there are 44 million borrowers with over $1.2 trillion in student loan debt. At the same time, 10% of CSU students, 14% of community college students, and thousands of UC students are homeless. On average, California students finish undergrad with more than $22,000 in student loan debt, and students nationwide take 21 years to pay off the average debt from a four-year degree. No student should have to go into crushing student debt just to keep a roof over their head while in college. We need new strategies to keep students safe from crushing student debt, and healthy and housed while they earn their degree.

Will you help public colleges and universities innovate to better support students?

California is preparing more students for college than ever before, but decades of higher education funding cuts and poor alignment among our three higher education systems often hinders their ability to provide a high-quality education. Some of our institutions of higher education are also struggling to help students graduate, and we have persistent equity gaps in graduation rates and post-graduate outcomes. We need to empower our colleges and universities to make the changes needed to close those gaps. That means not only more funding, but also support for innovative approaches to will help more students succeed.

Will you sustain higher education funding?

Any time there’s economic uncertainty or a state budget crunch, higher education is typically the first item cut. It is time for us to elect a new governor and legislature who will commit to sustainably funding higher education instead of passing the buck to students by raising tuition and fees. California’s students deserve stable, consistent funding for affordable, accessible, and high quality public higher education  – irrespective of the economic or political climate.

Answering these questions is the least candidates can do to show their support or students and families in our state. As they vie for our vote, we deserve to hear their plans for restoring funding for higher education—one of the most powerful public investments we can make.

Max Lubin is a graduate student at UC Berkeley, the CEO of Rise California, and was previously an Obama Administration appointee in the U.S. Department of Education.
Max Lubin is a graduate student at UC Berkeley, the CEO of Rise California, and was previously an Obama Administration appointee in the U.S. Department of Education.