Courtesy Ed Hernandez and Eleni Kounalakis campaigns
State Sen. Ed Hernandez and real estate developer Eleni Kounalakis are running for California lieutenant governor.

Both candidates vying to be the next lieutenant governor of California agree that the state and its universities must do more to help students afford college, but are proposing different strategies to reduce the cost of higher education.

Real estate developer Eleni Kounalakis said she would push California’s public universities to provide more affordable student housing and create a clear path to a degree so more students can graduate in four years instead of five or six.

State Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, said California needs to expand access to Cal Grants — the state financial aid program that helps over 300,000 low- and moderate-income students pay for college. He also supports providing more help for costs such as housing and transportation.

While California’s lieutenant governor has very limited powers and responsibilities, whoever wins the office on Nov. 6 will arguably be in position to have more influence on higher education than on any other issue.

That’s because he or she will be an ex officio member on the 26-member University of California Board of Regents and the 25-person California State University Board of Trustees which oversee both systems.

In response to questions from EdSource about their positions on higher education, Kounalakis and Hernandez described how they would use the lieutenant governor’s position to make colleges and universities more affordable. .

Click on the candidates’ photos below to read their full responses. 

  • Both candidates said they would work to increase state funding for higher education. Kounalakis said she would push for new taxes on oil companies and other businesses to pay for funding increases.
  • Both said they would vote against any attempt to raise UC or CSU tuition. Kounalakis said she was “the only candidate in this race to pledge never to vote to raise tuition,” but Hernandez said he too would vote against tuition hikes.
  • Citing recent audits of the systems, Hernandez said both UC System President Janet Napolitano and CSU System Chancellor Timothy White “can do more to increase their transparency.” Kounalakis’s response was that she would give White and Napolitano a passing grade on a pass/fail scale. 
  • Kounalakis said she supports creating a new CSU campus in Stockton as a way to address overcrowding. Hernandez acknowledged the state needs to increase the capacity of its universities, but was skeptical that a new campus is the answer.
  • Hernandez committed to attending every meeting of the UC and CSU governing boards if elected. Kounalakis said attending the meetings would be a “TOP priority” but stopped short of committing to perfect attendance. Opponents criticized current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom during the gubernatorial primary for his spotty attendance of the boards’ meetings.

Kounalakis and Hernandez, both Democrats, advanced to the Nov. 6 election after finishing first and second, respectively, in California’s June primary election. The primary’s two top vote-getters, regardless of party, face each other in the general election.

It addition to their posts on the UC and CSU governing boards, the lieutenant governor has a seat on a handful of other state boards and a tie-breaking vote in the state Senate and becomes governor if the sitting governor dies, resigns, is impeached or becomes incapacitated.

Kounalakis worked for 18 years as a real estate developer before she was appointed by President Obama to be U.S. ambassador to Hungary from 2010 to 2013. Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her chairwoman of the California International Trade and Investment Advisory Council in 2014. She attended Saint Francis High School, a private Catholic school in Sacramento and earned a bachelor’s degree at Dartmouth College and a master of business administration from UC Berkeley.

Obama has endorsed her, as have several other prominent Democrats, including U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein.

Hernandez is an optometrist who has spent the past 12 years representing the 22nd Senate District and before that the 57th Assembly District, both of which include portions of the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles. He attended Bassett High School in La Puente, earned a bachelor’s degree from Cal State Fullerton and received a Doctor of Optometry degree from Indiana University.

He has received endorsements from several labor organizations, including the California Teachers Association, the California School Employees Association and the American Federation of Teachers’ University Council.

Click below to read the full responses from Hernandez and Kounalakis to EdSource’s questions.

Ed Hernandez

State Senator, D-West Covina

What will your priorities be for higher education if you are elected lieutenant governor?

As a State Legislator, I have been a champion for reducing the financial burden on students and their families and I will continue working to ensure that California’s public universities are more accessible and affordable for ALL students, especially those from underserved and underrepresented communities. As part of the budget discussions this year, I continually advocated for full funding to the CSU and UC systems to ensure no tuition increases and vocally rejected any proposed tuition increases.

If elected as Lieutenant Governor, I will continue my commitment to making public higher education more affordable and accessible for all Californians. My priorities will center around tearing down barriers for students seeking to pursue a higher education. I believe that education is the greatest equalizer and is the key to building a more robust and competitive workforce for tomorrow—but many students and families are unable to afford enrollment today. The problems within our higher education system are multi-faceted and will require innovative and bold policies to solve them.

If we are to solve our issues in higher education, we must look to all the segments as part of the solution. This includes aligning our educational segments, ensuring equitable access and appropriate distribution of resources.

To start, I will work to ensure to ensure that low-income students have access to affordable education by:

  • Ensuring more budgetary transparency and accountability within our UC and CSU systems. In addition, we need to provide more funding to our UC and CSU systems so that we can return to the dream of truly affordable higher education set forth in the California Master Plan for Higher Education. We need to ensure that funding is directed to those students in most need to remove barriers and create equitable pathways for students.
  • Developing a comprehensive data system and coordinating body to provide the state with a clearinghouse to collect, store and utilize data regarding our California students. Currently, we have no way to see where students from California high schools attend college and how successful they are, and it’s difficult to have a full picture of how well our educational systems are serving low-income students and students of color. From this data, we can more effectively develop long-term policy agendas, to better determine where to direct resources and create a more harmonious relationship amongst our various education segments.
  • Reforming the Master Plan because we cannot continue to be entrenched in the Master Plan of the 1960s. We need to modernize and provide our education of the 21st century and beyond. I believe it is the bold and innovative policy agenda that is necessary to once again make our higher education system the gold standard. In addition, I believe any conversation around capacity has to center on reform of the Master Plan, which means we will be able to accept and retain more eligible students than before.

How will you work to advance those priorities given the limited power of the office?

While there are those who believe the Lieutenant Governor has limited power, I believe this office provides a unique and instrumental pulpit from which to enact change, but it must be used effectively. As Lieutenant Governor I will serve as a voting and vocal member of both the Board of Regents at the University of California and the Board of Trustees at the California State University system and I am deeply committed to utilizing this position to make public higher education more affordable and accessible for all Californians.

Though I would not sit on the Board of Governors for the Community College system, I can utilize my platform at the CSU and UC systems, along with my relationships with former fellow legislators, as a vocal advocate for students across our education systems. If we are to solve our issues in higher education, we must look to all the segments as part of the solution. This includes aligning our educational segments, ensuring equitable access and appropriate distribution of resources.

I have learned from my time in the California State Legislature that relationships are an effective tool to advancing priorities. Apart from being an ex officio Regent and Trustee, the Lieutenant Governor is also the President of the Senate and has a unique relationship with the Governor. I have the experience with advancing bold and historic policies through the Legislature over my 12 years serving as a legislator. I have developed the relationships with colleagues whom I can call upon and work together with to advance those priorities. I believe the Lieutenant Governor’s office is more than ceremonial and can make a profound difference in higher education policy — it just requires bold leadership.

As you know, the Lieutenant Governor is an ex officio voting member of the University of California Board of Regents and the California State University Board of Trustees. How important is it for the Lt. Governor to attend all meetings of those boards? If elected, will you commit to attending all meetings?

If elected as Lt. Governor I will certainly commit to attend all of the University of California Board of Regents and the California University Board of Trustees meetings.

I will continue working to empower education stakeholders at all levels and give them a voice within our California State University and University of California systems, and more indirectly, the Community College system.

Recently, I authored SCA 14, a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would have changed the makeup of the UC Board of Regents and make it more accountable to the students, faculty and the broader educational community. We need to change the culture and ensure at the highest level that leadership is the voice of the people which they have been appointed to serve. We need our leadership to reflect the demographics of our state.

Having diversity on the UC Board of Regents and CSU Board of Trustees means we will be able to more properly ensure funding is directed to those students in most need to remove barriers and create equitable pathways for them. We cannot expect students to successfully complete their higher education when they continue to have roadblocks.

Given the thought that the Lieutenant Governor’s office has limited power, the Regent and Trustee meetings provides a unique opportunity to provide visionary leadership through vocalizing concerns, listening to stakeholders and setting policy agendas.

If the Legislature does not respond adequately to funding requests from UC and CSU in future budgets and the systems propose tuition increases to make up for the shortfall in revenue, would you vote to authorize those tuition increases?

No, I would not vote to authorize tuition increases. For example, I proudly stood alongside some of my colleagues in the State Legislature and called upon the Governor to fully fund the UC and CSU, and ultimately we were successful. These are the relationships and knowledge I will bring to the Lieutenant Governor’s office to get things done in through the Legislature, with both policy and budget goals. In addition, we vehemently opposed any proposed tuition increases and as a result of our activism, both the UC and CSU rescinded any proposed increases.

But I also believe we need to figure out how we can commit to long-term funding solutions for higher education so that we are not having to continue with annual budget negotiations. This does students a disservice. Also, I think that student fee increases only serve to inhibit current and prospective students from achieving their academic goals. I believe that freezing or rolling back student fees will lead to higher enrollment and retention and I would not vote to authorize tuition increases.

California’s public universities are known for low tuition and robust financial aid. But other costs become barriers for many students. How will you work to ensure low-income students are able to access and afford an education at California’s four-year public universities, as well as at its community colleges?

California has long been the lead in providing financial assistance for tuition costs. However, any conversation about cost for higher education would be sorely lacking if we did not include the true cost of college. This means housing, food, books, transportation and tuition. This conversation needs to be had at ALL levels of higher education — UC, CSU and Community Colleges. Research shows that despite seemingly the least expensive option, in many regions throughout California, community college students bear the most cost.

This issue is very personal for me since I struggled to work and attend community college and CSU Fullerton while I worked full-time and raised my daughter. I know what it’s like to ask for loans and base higher educational decisions on transportation, housing and food costs.

That’s why I proudly co-authored a bill to provide free community college and authored a bill to increase the number of Competitive Cal Grants available, but I also recognize that we cannot stop there. We have students who are homeless, sleeping out of their cars because they cannot afford to live in a given area. We have students commuting hours by any means to make a class in order to avoid further debt. We have students who are going hungry at institutions that offer buffet meals at every meal in order to keep food on their family’s table instead.

We cannot continue to talk about the promise of free college without addressing the true cost of college. Nor can we expect our students to graduate in 4 years without providing them the tools to do so. Students who experience homelessness or food insecurity can also experience physical and mental health consequences that impact academic performance.

Our Cal Grant system is very robust and yet we are falling behind. I was a Cal Grant recipient, so I know what our students go through. As Lt. Governor, I will work to ensure that we evaluate how the systems could provide more affordable housing to those in need. We need to ensure that food pantries and CalFresh are available system-wide at an appropriate standard. We need to provide supplies to students so that they can appropriately learn in the classes they are taking. Additionally, we will also need to be open to a campus by campus approach rather than one size fits all model. Students in LA might experience different issues than students in Fresno.

I believe it is appropriate to reform the Cal Grant system in order to streamline it. There are students who can fall through the cracks and miss out on opportunities to receive financial aid. Cal Grant B access awards, which help offset the costs of non-tuition costs, have not kept up with inflation. Competitive Cal Grants have not kept up with demand. If elected to serve as the next Lieutenant Governor of California, I will continue to fight to increase availability of the Cal Grant so that students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to pursue their educational goals.

Should either of the university systems add a new campus or campuses? If so, where should new institutions be located?

I am open to leading efforts to conduct studies regarding local needs for new campuses in our communities in order to expand access to higher education to ALL Californians, especially our underserved and underrepresented communities.

It is not secret that we have a capacity issue within our higher education system. This does not automatically indicate the need for new campuses to be built in either system because that takes considerable resources and time. The existing costs for outstanding capital improvement programs and resources for students is alarming. That’s why I believe we much establish a much more robust data collection system in order to inform the Lieutenant Governor, the Governor, the higher education systems and the Legislature on how available resources can be most efficiently and effectively utilized.

Should efforts be made to convince voters to repeal Proposition 209’s ban on considering race and ethnicity in public university admissions? Do you believe there is more California’s public universities should do to increase student diversity and if so, what?

I believe repealing Proposition 209 is necessary to ensure that every young person has an equal opportunity to receive a quality education. I introduced multiple statutory changes and constitutional amendments to do just that, including Senate Constitutional Amendment 5, which asked voters to repeal Prop 209’s ban on the use of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the recruitment and retention processes of California’s public universities. Unfortunately, this bill faced opposition and failed to pass. In addition to working to repeal Prop 209, I will continue efforts to make college more affordable for all Californians and support initiatives that aim to make higher education more accessible to communities of color and other marginalized communities.

California’s public university systems are working to increase their student diversity, including outreach to underrepresented communities, but I believe they are extremely limited by Proposition 209. These are the conversations we need to have in higher education. But I believe it goes beyond student diversity. We need to consider faculty diversity and leadership diversity as well. Teachers and university leaders are important role models for their students and as such should reflect the population of the state of California. The economic success of the state depends on ensuring access for those communities that continue to be marginalized.

What grade would you give the performances of CSU System Chancellor Timothy White and UC System President Janet Napolitano in their respective positions?

While both Chancellor White and President Napolitano have made progress in reducing tuition costs of late, both offices can do more to lower skyrocketing costs for students and enroll and support more California students in our world-renowned higher education systems. In the light of recent audits done on the systems, I believe both Chancellor White and President Napolitano can do more to increase their transparency, especially given their utilization of state funding. If elected Lieutenant Governor, both should be prepared for tough, provocative questions, and to be held accountable.

Eleni Kounalakis

Real estate developer

What will your priorities be for higher education if you are elected lieutenant governor?

The cost of higher education is out of control and I oppose tuition increases on California’s students. I am the only candidate in this race to pledge never to vote to raise tuition as a member of the UC and CSU boards, and will fight to bring down the cost of higher education to California students and to increase capacity at the UC and CSU.

As the first in my family to graduate from a four-year university, I know how higher education opens the door to the American Dream and as Lt. Governor it will be my top priority to lower the cost of UC and CSU for California students. I paid $2K per year in tuition for my MBA at UC Berkeley in the early 1990s. Now, the same program costs over $60K per year. I will actively advocate for more funding from the state’s General Fund to lower the cost of higher education to our students and help reduce the burden of student debt on California’s families.

How will you work to advance those priorities given the limited power of the office?

As Lt. Governor, I will fight for a greater allocation from the General Fund for higher education and will advocate for other sources of revenue, including an oil extraction fee on Big Oil to fund education. Along with Texas, California is the only major state that doesn’t tax oil companies with an extraction fee. We also need to take a hard look at closing loopholes within Proposition 13. Consensus is building for tax reform in our state. Closing loopholes and making sure businesses are contributing their fair share is essential to the health of our society, and ultimately to our economy. For every $1 invested in colleges and universities, the state sees a return of $4.50. Investing in higher education is critical to California’s future.

We need to meet the demand of eligible students for UC and CSU and ensure the next generation can access affordable higher education and contribute to California’s economy. While 80% of students at the CSU receive financial aid, the truth is the state is turning away tens of thousands of students because it cannot keep up with the demand.

We have to address the issue of capacity. The average student is now graduating in five or more years. If the process was more transparent and easier to navigate, and if more of the required courses were available, then students could graduate on-time, further lowering their cost, reducing the amount needed to borrow and opening up more spots to incoming students.

As you know, the Lieutenant Governor is an ex officio voting member of the University of California Board of Regents and the California State University Board of Trustees. How important is it for the Lt. Governor to attend all meetings of those boards? If elected, will you commit to attending all meetings?

I believe it is critical that the Lt. Governor attend UC and CSU board meetings. Higher education is one of the most important responsibilities that the Lt. Governor has – and is a statutory duty of the office. Yes, I will make it a TOP priority to attend these board meetings myself. I believe we need more people dedicated to higher education in official office and the Lt. Governor has the opportunity to do just that.

If the Legislature does not respond adequately to funding requests from UC and CSU in future budgets and the systems propose tuition increases to make up for the shortfall in revenue, would you vote to authorize those tuition increases?

No. I am the only candidate in this race who has pledged to oppose all tuition increases for California’s students at our UCs and CSUs. I will fight for a greater contribution from the General Fund to ensure that tuition does not go up. I will also fight for tax reform to increase the availability of resources to fund higher education.

California’s public universities are known for low tuition and robust financial aid. But other costs become barriers for many students. How will you work to ensure low-income students are able to access and afford an education at California’s four-year public universities, as well as at its community colleges?

I have traveled to all 58 counties in California on this campaign and visited several UC and CSU campuses along the way. I was shocked to hear that students pay between $800 and $1,800 per month to live in dormitories and that a major portion of student debt is incurred due to housing expenses. I spent 18 years delivering affordable homes to working families in the Sacramento region, and as a housing expert I know I can find better solutions to provide affordable housing to our students.

Nearly half of UC students and 42% of CSU students qualify as food insecure – too many students are faced with the choice between a bed or books or even a meal. Our students’ academic experiences are enrisked under the pressure of rising costs.

While 80% of students at the CSU receive financial aid, the truth is the state is turning away tens of thousands of students because it cannot keep up with the demand.

We have to address the issue of capacity. The average student is now graduating in five or more years. If the process was more transparent and easier to navigate, and if more of the required courses were available, then students could graduate on-time, further lowering their cost, reducing the amount needed to borrow and opening up more spots to incoming students.

Should either of the university systems add a new campus or campuses? If so, where should new institutions be located?

I have already come out in strong support of building a new CSU campus in Stockton and there is already significant local support for the project.

California is turning away tens of thousands of students who qualify for admission to our state universities and while we should address the issue of capacity as mentioned, we should take a serious look at building new campuses.

I have toured several UC and CSU campuses as part of my road trip visiting all 58 counties in California. What I saw when I went to schools in the Central Valley – like UC Merced and CSU Stanislaus – is that these campuses serve as vital, central community hubs and most of the students stay in the local community after graduation and contribute to the local economy.

Should efforts be made to convince voters to repeal Proposition 209’s ban on considering race and ethnicity in public university admissions? Do you believe there is more California’s public universities should do to increase student diversity and if so, what?

I fought the passage of Proposition 209 and I support repealing it. Affirmative action is proven public policy which effectively addresses the unconscionable divide in access to higher education. Our democracy cannot survive – much less prosper – with such inequity. Today, over half of college-age kids are Black or Hispanic. But only 15% of freshmen at my alma mater, UC Berkeley, are Black or Hispanic. This is a problem and we have to be proactive in addressing it before the gap widens even further.

What grade would you give the performances of CSU System Chancellor Timothy White and UC System President Janet Napolitano in their respective positions?

On a pass/no pass scale, I would give them a pass. If elected Lt. Governor, I will work closely with them to ensure the highest possible performance of all the staff of CSU and UC – so that our students are well served.

Share Article

Comments (1)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

The goal of the comments section on EdSource is to facilitate thoughtful conversation about content published on our website. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. Dkel 1 week ago1 week ago

    The focus should not be on access for college. The focus on college should be creating scholars. We are witnessing students graduating from California schools unable to write at 8th grade levels. California State University is offering and enrolling students in a nursing program, which they disbanded. Cal State colleges are struggling to provide a thriving academic climate due to the state terminating full time professor positions- but still enrolling students knowing space is not … Read More

    The focus should not be on access for college. The focus on college should be creating scholars. We are witnessing students graduating from California schools unable to write at 8th grade levels. California State University is offering and enrolling students in a nursing program, which they disbanded. Cal State colleges are struggling to provide a thriving academic climate due to the state terminating full time professor positions- but still enrolling students knowing space is not available. The focus needs to return to 1980 standards.