Case Study: Support California’s Public Higher Education

California Community Colleges, California State University and the University of California
Project Title
Support California’s Public Higher Education
Two weeks

Project brief

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.

Research & Strategy

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 challenging.

Logistically, identifying and obtaining high-impact data from across three large university systems was also time- and labor-intensive.


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.

Pro bono

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