In the wake of an unprecedented $1.7 billion in state funding cuts,
California’s three public higher-education systems joined forces in April 2010 to
stage a united advocacy day in Sacramento, asking lawmakers to restore higher
education as a priority in the 2010–11 budget. The communications team in the
UC Office of the President was asked to create a collateral piece that would
help them make a compelling case. This advocacy piece was directed at state
legislators to increase state funding and support for California’s three
segments of higher education: California Community Colleges, California State
University and the University of California.
We focused on collecting data from across all three systems that conveyed both
the breadth of the successes of higher education and the economic impact of the
system on the state. But we also wanted a piece that would grab lawmakers’
attention by keenly focusing disparate examples—in sheer numbers, dollars,
projections and blunt quotes—of the risks we’re facing in California through
chronic underfunding: how prison funding has outstripped that of higher
education and how other states and countries are surpassing our investment and
poaching our brightest faculty and students.
We designed the brochure with an aggressive palette and a broadsheet feel to (economically) convey a sense of news and urgency. We ended on an explicit call to action for legislators to put state money where our greatest minds will be.
It’s always challenging to articulate a real and
significant problem facing the university without intimating an attendant
decline in the quality of education. Keeping the tone upbeat and energetic—not merely shrill or apocalyptic—in the face of such a crisis proved equally
Logistically, identifying and obtaining
high-impact data from across three large university systems was also time- and
The project was successful because it was impactful. During the advocacy day, Governor Schwarzenegger held a roundtable with higher-education leaders where, citing statistics called out in the collateral piece, he pledged not to sign a state budget unless it included the restoration of roughly $848 million in higher-education funding that had been cut from the three systems. The final budget included that funding.
The entire project was produced in-house at the
University of California on behalf of all three segments of public higher
education in California. This was done at no charge to the other segments, and
took only staff time at UC. Printing fees were paid for by the University of California, and we produced a quantity of 1,000 brochures for under $2,000.
This case study is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Looking for additional ways to design for good? This list of organizations and programs is a great place to start. There are many more opportunities out there—so if you know of a resource we should add here let us know!
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