California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

University Is Serving An Aging Population

Published: April 15, 2015

President Jane Close Conoley recently sat down with state lawmakers to talk about why they should invest in the California State University (CSU). Surprisingly, her conversation centered on how CSULB is improving the lives of Californians who are 50 years and older versus those individuals who are between 18 and 25 years of age, and more likely to seek to enroll in a state university.

CSULB is in the forefront of preparing the Greater Long Beach Area to accommodate an aging population. Joining Conoley in the State Capitol was Joe Prevratil, CEO of the Archstone Foundation, whose sole focus is on supporting an aging population. The Archstone Foundation has teamed up with CSULB, investing more than $5 million in the university.

The United States is in the midst of a major demographic shift. According to the Pew Research Center, as the year 2011 began, the oldest members of the Baby Boom generation celebrated their 65th birthday. Roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 every day and will do so until 2030. Baby Boomers will account for 26 percent of the U.S. population, or 79 million people. Collectively, they are redefining what it means to be “old” in America.

California is also experiencing exponential growth in its aging population. As the state’s senior population increases, it is projected that the working-age population will decline. According to the California Department of Finance, by 2030 the number of older adults is projected to increase by 96 percent while the number of working-age adults will increase by only 9 percent. In this same timeframe, half of California’s counties – 29 of 58 – will have more senior citizens than children under 18. This was true of only nine counties in 2010. Los Angeles’ evolution stands to be among the most extreme, it is projected to gain 867,000 senior citizens and lose 630, 000 people younger than 25 years by 2025.

While Baby Boomers feel young at heart, many will experience declining financial resources, declining health and significant lifestyle changes that are brought about by retirement from the workforce. In retirement, the state will be sharply divided by those who have sufficient financial resources and those who live in poverty.

Local, state and federal opinion leaders are coming together to determine ways to reshape state policies to ensure this dramatic shift in demographics leads to positive social and economic outcomes for our communities. Often overlooked and underestimated in these policy discussions is the pivotal role public universities are playing in preparing communities to face challenges associated with an aging population. The CSU prepares 75 percent of the state’s criminal justice professionals, 82 percent of the state’s social workers, 64 percent of those working in the hospitality industry, 45 percent of its engineers, 44 percent of medical professionals and 54 percent of business professionals (including financial advisors).

While memories of the 1960’s college protests and sit-ins seem long ago, Baby Boomers remain not only in control of the electorate, but they continue to be highly connected to outcomes of California’s public universities. Arguably, it is impossible to separate a Boomer’s quality of life from the educational attainment levels of California’s younger – and much smaller – generations to come.

Educating the students who will meet workforce demands to serve this population will be impossible under the current level of funding provided by the state. For Fall 2015, more than 85,000 students competed to gain undergraduate admission to CSULB. Due to fiscal constraints, the university could fund only about 8,000 new admissions. While some CSULB applicants may have chosen an alternative, the fact remains that the CSU system has been forced to turn away between 20,000 and 30,000 fully qualified students each year over the past five years, while demand remains at an all-time high.

Upon Conoley’s return from Sacramento to Long Beach, State Assembly members Patrick O’Donnell and Cristina Garcia and State Senator Janet Nguyen all committed to supporting additional funding for the CSU. These commitments are welcome news and a step in the right direction. The California Legislature has until June 15 to send the governor a balanced budget. The governor has until July 1 to enact a final State Budget for fiscal year 2015-16.