Associate Professor of Public Policy Wesley Yin’s research into the soaring cost of medical debt in the United States was featured in the UCLA Anderson Review. A study co-authored by Yin and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that medical bills sent to collection agencies totaled an estimated $140 billion as of June 2020. That sum, which is bigger than all other sources of debt in collection combined, was tallied even before the pandemic saddled COVID-19 sufferers with unpaid doctor and hospital bills. Medical debt is concentrated in low-income neighborhoods, in the South and in states that refused to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. “Communities that had been most burdened by medical debt have become even worse off, in absolute and relative terms, due to their leaders choosing not to expand Medicaid,” Yin said. “The results are important because they indicate that these problems are within the control of public policy.”
Judith Heumann, a lifelong advocate for the rights of disabled people, joined Fernando Torres-Gil, professor of social welfare and public policy, for a wide-ranging virtual conversation focusing on the ongoing fight for universal accessibility. Hosted by the UCLA Luskin Undergraduate Program, the Feb. 8 dialogue came during Heumann’s weeklong appointment as a UCLA Regents’ Lecturer. Heumann and Torres-Gil spoke about their work shaping legislation and policies to protect the rights and affirm the dignity of disabled Americans. Both speakers have spent decades serving in key government and nonprofit positions focusing on health and aging, and both bring a personal perspective on living with disability as survivors of polio contracted as young children. Torres-Gil, director of the Center for Policy Research on Aging at UCLA Luskin, said making education, housing and health care more accessible will have a broad impact, as people young and old may face unexpected physical or cognitive decline and as the long-term health effects of COVID-19 become clear. Heumann also spoke about her work as a Ford Foundation fellow studying depictions of disabled people in the media. “The paper that we produced was a roadmap to inclusion,” she said. “It is making it normal that you could be blind, you could be deaf, you can have a physical disability, you can have an intellectual disability, you can have a memory issue — all these different things. They need to be built into the way we experience life.”
View a video of Heumann’s UCLA Regents’ Lecture, “Disrupting Ableism in Higher Education and Beyond.”
Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10 has been appointed as co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. She served as the founding deputy director for 12 years, playing an integral part in building the research center from the ground up. The new role reflects Callahan’s experience, the growing trajectory of the center and its goals for the future. In this expanded position, Callahan plans to increase strategic engagement and partnership initiatives to maximize the center’s impact on public policies and other environmental innovations for the health of people and the planet. “It’s both an exciting and daunting time to step into this role,” Callahan said. “Bold action on the climate crisis is urgently needed. I’m humbled to have this opportunity to expand the center’s collaborations with frontline communities, policymakers and others to help advance solutions.” With 18 years of experience in social entrepreneurship, environmental policy and urban planning, Callahan will amplify the work of the Luskin Center for Innovation’s 20 faculty affiliates, 12 full-time staff, and more than 25 part-time researchers and consultants. The new executive director position will enhance the center’s leadership structure, with Greg Pierce sharing the executive leadership role with Callahan. In addition, V. Kelly Turner and Pierce, faculty in the department of urban planning, are leading the center’s research programs as co-directors. Together, they bring a shared commitment and strong capacity to advance evidence-based and equitable environmental policies. Rounding out the team will be a new faculty director in the coming year.
By Les Dunseith
The Luskin School of Public Affairs has been growing — quickly.
- The faculty is far larger than it was just five years ago — 35 ladder faculty then, 59 now (with three more hires pending).
- Half-a-dozen additional research centers have been added or fully funded during that time.
- The undergraduate public affairs major has skyrocketed from zero to 428 majors and pre-majors since spring 2018. Another 167 undergraduates are working on a minor.
Make no mistake, numbers like these are very good news. But such growth comes with a price tag, and dealing with that financial reality didn’t get any easier amid the economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How to pay for it all?
It helps that enrollment in UCLA Luskin’s graduate degree programs is up across the board. A total of 551 master’s students, a record number, are enrolled this academic year. Revenue from fees paid by these professional school students helps offset some of the associated costs of educating more people, such as hiring additional instructors and funding more graduate research fellowships. From a budget standpoint, such fees are also beneficial because they are not part of state appropriations and thus not impacted by any cuts from Sacramento.
It’s also true that adding undergraduate students brings in revenue from tuition. Generally speaking, tuition money flows to the university as a whole, not directly to the Luskin School, but additional funding tied to the undergraduate program has been put to good use at UCLA Luskin to support educational activities in undergraduate classrooms.
A portion has also been directed toward the graduate students who act as teaching assistants.
Rowena Barlow, chief financial officer, said total support received by the Luskin School’s students has risen 72.4% over four years. Teaching assistantships include a tuition waiver in addition to salary, meaning that many graduate students today are paying less for a master’s degree than they would have if the undergraduate degree did not exist.
On the negative side of the ledger, adding the undergraduate program also led to the hiring of many new faculty, which has increased salary costs. But many of the new additions have contributed to another growing source of funding — research contracts and grants.
“Grant proposals and research awards have grown exponentially,” Barlow said, increasing up to 60% since Gary Segura became dean. In the most-recent fiscal year, UCLA Luskin was awarded 124 grants totaling $23.2 million, nearly double the 66 grants totaling $11.2 million in 2017-18. And just three months into the current fiscal year, researchers at the Luskin School had already received contracts and grants totaling more than $13.1 million.
Grants are especially important to faculty and their associated research centers, and as the number of such entities has grown, so has their funding. In the last fiscal year, academic research and advocacy entities, along with related training programs, brought in 72 awards — 58% of the School’s total. Barlow said those grants totaled more than $18.5 million — 80% of all contract and grant funding at UCLA Luskin.
“The numbers are stunning,” said Segura, who credited the dedication of Barlow’s team in Financial Services with coping with a steadily increasing workload as new research centers have come aboard.
“There’s no handbook,” Segura said. “There’s no campus resource center for new center startups.”
Another vital funding source not tied to taxpayer support is private donations, particularly endowments like the gift from Meyer and Renee Luskin in 2011 that led to the renaming of the School. The Luskins recently fulfilled the remainder of that gift and subsequent endowments totaling $54 million, and the full amount is now earning the interest that funds ongoing educational activities such as student fellowships and scholarships, some faculty research efforts and the Luskin Lecture series. A portion of the Luskin endowment is also earmarked specifically to faculty recruitment and retention, Barlow noted.
“Competing for faculty is our biggest budget challenge,” Segura said. “Our faculty are successful. And the more successful they are, the more other schools come knocking.”
Even the generosity of the Luskins extends only so far, however. Several priority needs remain.
Jocelyn Guihama, director of administration and experiential learning for the undergraduate program, mentioned that many students reported working multiple jobs to support their families amid the economic turmoil of the pandemic.
“Since most of the internships that we provide are unpaid, removing the necessity to hold down a job or jobs — by funding more scholarships so that students can focus on their capstone and academics — would be the ideal,” she said.
Segura said gifts that benefit students are always welcomed, and he mentioned another ongoing need that potential donors might not think about — gifts that directly support doctoral students.
“Doctoral fellowships are hugely valuable,” said Segura, not only for the students themselves but indirectly for the entire School because those who earn Ph.D.s at UCLA typically go on to positions at other universities. Many refer potential students to UCLA. Some cooperate with their former professors on new research projects. And having alumni professors distributed widely within academia helps boost the School’s reputation, which drives academic rankings.
Growth at the Luskin School is ongoing, and Segura noted that two more research entities are now in the startup phase — one focusing on childhood bullying, and the other relating to the complexities of gay male sexuality. Both are looking for a benefactor.
Ultimately, today’s UCLA Luskin is a place where bold ambitions might occasionally outpace resources, and the financial challenges can seem daunting at times. Even so, managing the cost of success is a good problem to have.
By Nick Gonzalez
Latinas make less than their male and female counterparts, have never served in a statewide elected position in California and remain underrepresented in corporate leadership positions. A new two-year effort launched by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and the California Latino Caucus seeks to tackle the inequities that the state’s Latinas face.
UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) faculty and staff have been at the forefront of the Unseen Latinas Initiative by providing expert testimony in its first year of public hearings to identify problems and solutions. Through cross-sector research, a team of LPPI female experts have been putting a data-driven lens on the educational, economic and career barriers that Latinas must overcome.
“By launching the Unseen Latinas Initiative, California’s leaders are making it clear that they understand that the state’s continued economic prowess requires that Latinas have a fair chance to succeed and thrive,” said Sonja Diaz, LPPI founding director. “Especially as we emerge from the pandemic, it’s time to make sure that no one gets left behind in the recovery and bright future that lies ahead.”
Latinas make up nearly 20% of Californians, and Latina participation in the U.S. workforce is expected to grow by 26% in the next 10 years. Yet new research from LPPI shows that Latinas exited the workforce amid the pandemic at higher rates than any other demographic amid the pandemic, making it clear that recovery efforts should provide specific assistance to help them recover financially and get back on their feet.
“California has an opportunity and responsibility to lead what it means to have a just and equal economy,” said Gonzalez, who earned a law degree at UCLA in 1999. “UCLA LPPI has been a valuable partner on the Unseen Latinas Initiative. LPPI experts have shared key testimony by shining a light on the inequalities Latinas continue to face, as well as the opportunities that exist to make sure Latinas are no longer unseen and can participate in the state’s prosperous future.”
In an October conversation about the Latina wage gap, Diaz urged action to address the child-care and family obligations that pushed Latinas out of the workforce during the pandemic. Without a clear plan to bring them back into the labor market, the repercussions could be devastating for Latino families and for the state’s economy, she said.
LPPI expert Mary Lopez, an economics professor at Occidental College, continued the conversation in a January hearing on the labor market, testifying that policy solutions such as affordable child care and job training are essential in reducing workforce inequities for Latinas.
Part of the invisibility of the needs and strengths of the state’s Latinas comes from the lack of representation in media and popular culture. At an April hearing, LPPI expert Ana-Christina Ramón provided testimony about the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, which she co-founded and co-authors. Latinos and women are among the groups that remain underrepresented in film relative to their population size.
“We know that Hollywood plays a meaningful role in shaping how people perceive others around them,” said Ramón, who is also the director of research and civic engagement at the UCLA Division of Social Sciences. “When Latinas do not have starring roles or they are not seen as doctors, lawyers or CEOs, that perpetuates the barriers that they face in achieving their full potential.”
For information about the legislators leading Unseen Latinas and for details on upcoming hearings, please visit the Assembly website for the state’s Select Committee on Latina Inequities.
A new book co-authored by UCLA Luskin Dean Gary Segura measures the full cost of war by examining the consequences of foreign combat on domestic politics. In “Costly Calculations: A Theory of War, Casualties, and Politics,” published by Cambridge University Press, the authors employ a variety of empirical methods to examine multiple wars from the last 100 years. The human toll – the military dead and injured – is generally the most salient measure of war costs and the primary instrument through which war affects the social, economic and political fabric of a nation, according to Segura and co-author Scott Sigmund Gartner, provost of the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. Their work provides a framework for understanding war initiation, war policy and war termination in democratic polities, as well as the forces that shape public opinion. “War-making is not just strategic but also represents a political action of some consequence filtered through a societal lens,” the authors write. “Leaders embark upon a course of conflict with an eye on the level of public support, work hard to win that support if it’s missing, actively attempt to manage public beliefs about the conflict and its costs and benefits, and may suffer the political consequences when the people viewing a conflict through the eyes of their communities believe that they miscalculated.”
Urban Planning Chair Chris Tilly spoke to Grocery Dive and Business Insider about the growing labor shortage, which comes as many retail employees are demanding improved working conditions. “Consumer demand is expanding faster than people are able and willing to go back into the labor force,” Tilly explained. “I don’t think we’re at a point where workers have permanently gained the upper hand, but I would be cautious about saying exactly when the power is going to shift back more to employers.” In the grocery sector, Tilly recommended that employers market their positions as opportunities for growth and advancement, in addition to offering higher wages. “Back when retail was a relatively desirable job, part of what made it that way was you actually could have a retail career, and it was not just a very small number of people who became supervisors and managers and took that path to the top,” he said.
Associate Professor of Public Policy Chris Zepeda-Millán was featured in an Independent article discussing the deadly consequences of U.S. border policy. A recent photo of a Border Patrol agent carrying a migrant to safety in the Rio Grande Valley highlights the dangers of crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, especially in the excessive heat of summer. As of May, the Border Patrol has rescued more than 7,000 people this fiscal year, more than the same period in previous years. By tightening security at more common points of entry, U.S. border policy is explicitly designed to push migrants into dangerous, remote areas to deter further crossings. “The most devastating effect will undoubtedly be the increasing number of migrant deaths as they get pushed further and further into dangerous deserts and isolated mountain areas,” Zepeda-Millán said. “That’s literally our stated policy.” Most adult migrants who make it across the border are immediately deported without a chance to seek asylum.
By Stan Paul
For Jasmine Hill and four other new full-time faculty at the Luskin School, it will be a homecoming.
The 2011 UCLA alumna, who served as student body president during her senior year as an undergraduate, will begin doing research and teaching at her alma mater as an assistant professor of public policy this summer.
“I think it’s always people’s dream to come back to their undergraduate institution, especially if they had a positive experience, and that was certainly the case for me,” Hill said. “Having received my graduate training at a private school, I got to see how much I value UCLA and public education.”
Hill’s work focuses on economic inequality, specifically on obstacles to social mobility for Black Americans. At UCLA Luskin, she will teach qualitative methods, plus a course about how seemingly well-intentioned policies can lead to racial inequality.
“In the wake of the assassination of George Floyd, I’m thinking a great deal about the disconnect between decision-makers and the public who wants to transform systems of power. If done correctly, I see qualitative methods as a tool to amplify the perspectives of the people and center the needs, and the concerns, of underserved populations,” she said.
Hill is passionate about mentoring students, especially those who traditionally have been marginalized. “I’m excited to support Luskin students who are organizing and fostering social change,” she said. “I’m motivated
Another new faculty member with direct ties to campus is Veronica Terriquez, who earned her Ph.D. in sociology in 2009 at UCLA and will become a professor of urban planning with a joint appointment in Chicana/o and Central American Studies. She will also lead the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. She was previously an associate professor of sociology at UC Santa Cruz.
Terriquez focuses on social inequality, immigrant incorporation and political participation, taking an intersectional approach to understanding how individuals and groups reproduce or challenge patterns of social inequality. Much of her research has implications for policies affecting low-income, immigrant and Latino communities.
“As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, I prioritize conducting research that has implications for education reform, immigrant rights, labor rights and racial justice efforts,” said Terriquez, who also holds degrees from Harvard and UC Berkeley.
Mark Vestal has strong personal links not just to UCLA but also to Los Angeles. He was born in Inglewood and can trace his family lineage in the city to the late 1800s. He attended local schools and completed his undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degrees at UCLA.
Vestal, who completed his Ph.D. in history in 2020, joined UCLA Luskin Urban Planning in January as a postdoctoral scholar and will transition to assistant professor in July.
“Being able to teach and do research in the city I have so much invested in, personally — in terms of personal experience, politically and also in terms of family ancestry — perhaps it should be an entitlement, but it feels like an incredible privilege,” Vestal said.
His interest lies in the Black experience of private property, he explained, looking closely at the history of discriminatory planning and housing policy in Los Angeles and beyond.
Vestal is developing his doctoral dissertation into a book, describing it as a social history of working-class property and politics. The findings of his thesis will “force urban historians, and anyone concerned with housing policy, to rethink the central problem of race and housing in the United States.”
Also joining UCLA Luskin Urban Planning in January was Adam Millard-Ball, an associate professor whose previous academic post was in environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz. He holds a doctorate from Stanford and studies environmental economics and transportation.
Working remotely amid the pandemic, Millard-Ball has already taught a class in transportation and environmental issues and another on urban data science.
Millard-Ball originally hails from the south of England. Trained as an economist, geographer and planner, his scholarship analyzes the environmental consequences of transportation and land-use decisions, including parking. He also examines policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Much of my current work is about street network sprawl worldwide — quantifying which places have been really successful in providing connected streets, which are good for walking and biking,” he said.
Noting that transportation is the largest source of emissions in California, Millard-Ball explained, “I’m interested in what can be done to bend that curve.”
The fifth new faculty addition also has UCLA teaching experience. Margaret “Maggie” Thomas, who will become an assistant professor of social welfare, previously served as a lecturer for a second-year graduate course on poverty and welfare.
“I was particularly glad to get to teach last year as a way to really be connected with Luskin in that interim year,” said Thomas, who finished her Ph.D. at Boston University in 2020, followed by postdoctoral work at Columbia University. “It was just such a nice chance to get to know master’s students and start to get a little bit familiar with what the whole feel of teaching is like at Luskin and to meet some colleagues who are also teaching in the MSW program.”
Much of Thomas’ work is policy-oriented,
“so there’s a lot of really natural connections for me between social welfare, public policy and urban planning. Luskin offers such clear opportunities to collaborate with all three departments.”
Thomas holds degrees from Notre Dame and the University of Illinois. She focuses on children and families facing economic hardship, as well as children and youth from marginalized communities.
“We’ve heard conversations about hardship at the national level a lot more this year than we typically do. Whether it’s
food insecurity or housing hardship, the kinds of things I’ve been studying are only that much more prominent and bigger problems to solve,” she said.
To earn a master of public policy degree at UCLA Luskin, students must demonstrate their command of the analytical and communication skills needed to develop real-world policy solutions. This year, 15 teams completed the rite of passage, presenting the results of their yearlong Applied Policy Project investigations into specific problems faced by a broad array of government agencies, nonprofits and other firms working in the public interest. Clients included several city and county offices; large nonprofits including the United Way and World Vision International; a nursing home in Tianjin, China; and local advocacy groups such as Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles. Students are encouraged to grapple with the challenges of policy implementation amid often conflicting social, political, economic and technical interests. During three virtual sessions in May, the teams described the policy issues they tackled, reviewed their research, presented a course of action, then fielded questions from peers and professors. They also produced full reports documenting their findings, made available to clients as well as future MPP students. This year, honors were granted to four APP projects:
- Interrupting the Cycle of Incarceration for Individuals with Mental Illness (Jess Bendit, Joshua Segui, Courtney B. Taylor, Rachel Vogt)
- Bus and Fleet Electrification Strategic Plan: City of Gardena’s GTrans (George Every, Robin Kaloustian, Will Proctor, Karishma Shamdasani, Aditya Voleti)
- Equity-Focused Heat Adaptation Strategies for Los Angeles County’s Office of Emergency Management (Hanqing Chu, Jacqueline Adams, Jiaxin Li, Sarah Goldmuntz)
- Los Angeles County Youth Diversion: Prioritizing Contract Accessibility for Community Based Service Providers (Savannah Walker, Monique Cardona, Sara Omanovic, Kaylyn Canlione)