California

Bill Would Clear Path for Two-Tiered Pricing at Calif. Community Colleges

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California lawmaker wants to make two-tiered pricing at community colleges legal, partially to prevent minority students from attending for-profits. But critics say the bill opens door to privatization.

University of California faces questions about its governance structure

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The University of California system is facing questions about whether its centralized governing structure is still optimal, but some wonder whether more independence would be good for all campuses or just a few.

San Jose State University gets more selective, reluctantly

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San Jose State University gets more selective for local students, citing budget cuts and enrollment pressure, while 15 other Cal State campuses are at least partially overcrowded.

California community colleges look for new leader amid deep challenges

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With California's community colleges facing challenges that many say are insurmountable, the system begins to search for a new chancellor.

California contemplates crackdown on for-profits

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Tough new regulations are unlikely this year in Washington, but in California a new state law, hearings and multiple investigations are kicking off.
 

UC system weighs shift in tuition payments to after graduation

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Proposal being weighed by University of California to shift student payments to after graduation and tie them to income would be a dramatic change in how education is financed.

Two-year colleges in California move toward rationing student access

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While California's community college system debates how to ration student access, two of its institutions have begun the sometimes-painful process.

California private colleges worry about cuts to state-funded Cal Grant

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As the budget forecast turns sunnier for California's public institutions, the privates worry about cuts to a state scholarship program on which their students rely.

Documentary by Frederick Wiseman portrays UC-Berkeley in fall 2010

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New documentary by Frederick Wiseman offers a meditation on the role of public higher education.

California bill on third-party providers is bad policy (essay)

Despite the praise heaped on California Senate Bill 520 by Phil Hill and Dean Florez in a recent panegyric published in Inside Higher Ed, the bill was not the right answer for California’s higher education access woes, and it is a poor model for other states to emulate.

A bill that would open the door to for-profit companies -- including unaccredited “fly-by-night” ones -- to offer courses in the name of a state’s colleges and universities is fraught with danger. A bill that would require a state’s colleges and universities to outsource their core educational function is truly misguided, however well-intentioned the idea may have been. 

That’s the real reason for the huge uproar and the rare universal opposition to California’s SB 520 from those close to higher education -- both faculty groups and the universities themselves.

Let’s be clear about one thing that’s not acknowledged in Hill and Florez’s piece: colleges and universities around the country already allow transfer credit from other universities as long as those courses meet the quality control standards of the home institution. 

That tradition has been in place for a long time precisely to balance the needs of students who often take courses at more than one institution with the needs of the public to ensure quality control and the integrity of degrees from its taxpayer-funded institutions.  The people of California (including employers) need to know that a degree from the University of California, the California State University, or a state community college is just that -- and not something offered by an unknown entity. 

By mandating that state public colleges and universities begin a process of outsourcing its courses, SB 520 would have seriously weakened transparency and accountability in its institutions of higher learning. That’s one reason why the provosts of major universities in the Midwest have argued against similar schemes in their institutions. Alumni and trustees at Thunderbird Business School have also expressed serious concerns about how such a proposed relationship would threaten the reputation of that school and the value of its degrees for all students.

There is good reason for such concern, for cautionary tales about relying on for-profit companies to offer a college’s courses are unfolding right now around the country.  In a December 2012 court settlement, for instance, the New York Institute of Technology was found legally and financially liable for actions of its for-profit partner. More recently, Tiffin University has seen its accreditation threatened because of over-reliance on unaccredited for-profit companies to offer its courses. 

If SB 520 had passed, it would not have expanded meaningful access to quality higher education in the state. But it would have thrown open the door to massive profits for edu-businesses, who are accountable not to the people of California, but to investors and stockholders. No wonder so many CEOs were there to praise SB 520.

Florez and Hill labor mightily to make SB 520 sound bold and innovative, an effort to “wake up [California’s] higher education community,” they say.  What everyone, including the state’s elected leaders, really need to wake up to are the fundamental facts about higher education funding in California. 

According to a report published in February 2013 by Postsecondary Opportunity: The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and titled “State Disinvestment in Higher Education FY1961 to FY2013,” California’s state fiscal support for higher education as a percentage of state personal income dropped by 58.2 percent (adjusted for inflation) between 1980 and 2013. The trajectory is clear: if the current long-term trend continues, California will reach zero in state funding for higher education in the year 2054. 

Unfortunately, as Postsecondary Opportunity’s research demonstrates, many other states are also in a “Race to Zero.”

SB 520 was no “wake-up call” for anyone.  It was, in fact, a dangerous diversion from the reality that there is simply no substitute for public investment in higher education, and there is no single cheaper teaching modality or low-cost “magic bullet” that will meet our need for qualified college graduates.

With all that is at stake for the futures of millions of students and for our country, we need to take a harder look at so-called “innovative” solutions that make the old promise of “something for nothing.”

This essay was written by the steering committee of the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, a coalition of faculty groups.

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