(TNS) – Fresno State opened in 1911 as the what was then called Fresno State Normal School. Today it is officially called California State University, Fresno.
Whatever its name, there is no doubt that the university has played in its 111-year history in advancing education in the San Joaquin Valley.
Students with an agriculture degree go directly to work on area farms and related businesses. It’s a similar story for freshman teachers graduating from the Kremen School of Education who become teachers in local districts, and for entrepreneurs at the Craig School of Business starting new businesses.
In fact, 80% of today’s proud Bulldog graduates stay in the Valley, says university president Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval.
The university has 2,500 employees. Beyond direct employment, there is the wider impact of the purchase of goods and services. During the 2018-19 school year, officials said Fresno State-related activity supported 11,142 jobs, $438.9 million in labor income and $1.3 billion in industrial activity, and contributed $81.2 million in state and local tax revenue, according to the report, The impact of California State University.
Yet, for all its crucial importance to the region, as part of national education, Fresno State is considered a regional university. In terms of federal funding, it ranks below research universities and land-grant colleges.
Jim Costa hopes to change that a bit. Longtime Democratic congressman from Fresno, he co-sponsored a bill, HR 8688, this would provide grants of between $25 million and $50 million to regional universities like Fresno State.
Grants could be used to improve public health services, provide start-up funding for new businesses, expand local internet service, repair major public and university buildings, and create job training and apprenticeship programs to bring people to work.
These ideas parallel those of a 2021 study from the Brookings Institution. His key point was that a great way to support struggling communities emerging from the COVID pandemic is to strengthen not large research institutions, like UC Berkeley, but mid-level schools such as the State of Fresno.
Costa is smart to recognize this and seize the moment.
For years, Fresno has struggled with high unemployment, low wages, poor public health, and a host of other social ills that point to its “distressed” reality.
Enter Costa’s HR 8688. This would create a special designation to target new funds to regional universities so they can stimulate economic opportunity in their communities.
In California, in addition to Fresno State, Costa’s bill would provide funding to Cal State Los Angeles, San Diego State, and Cal Poly Pomona.
“As an alumnus and former Fresno State Bulldog, I am proud to introduce this groundbreaking legislation that could provide significant investments to strengthen our regional economy and create new opportunities for Valley residents to prosper” , Costa said. in his announcement about the bill.
Fresno State officials said they will use additional funds to invest in “high market demand” disciplines, including business and entrepreneurship, education, social work, nursing , engineering, agriculture and criminology.
Strengthening Fresno State programs and infrastructure will also help protect the valley from economic downturns. According to the Brookings report, regional universities “support regional economic resilience during downturns and other economic shocks.”
Brookings said new research reveals that the presence of regional universities has helped local communities better manage declining manufacturing (think factories in the Midwest) and declining oil and coal production (think the Kentucky Mining).
Agriculture in the valley is an economic powerhouse, but it faces major challenges related to water availability due to drought and pumping restrictions due to state law. Valley farming will surely remain the flagship industry it is today. But it’s good to know that Fresno State will continue long into the future.
The other Valley congressmen — Republicans David Valadao of Hanford and Connie Conway of Tulare — are expected to support Costa’s bill without delay or political reservation. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, who will likely represent Clovis next year, is also expected to back him.
That’s about as bipartisan as a bill can get. After all, what’s good for Fresno State is good for the Valley.
©2022 The Fresno Bee. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.