Commission Calls For Overhaul of California Public Higher Education

The Little Hoover Commission, an independent, bipartisan group that analyzes and reports on government functions, has urged higher education leaders and public officials in California to re-imagine the college agenda to meet changing workforce demands. The commission released a new report on the future of higher education stating that it is time to replace California’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education with a new agenda that focuses on creating more college graduates prepared to contribute to the economy, according to Carla Rivera of Los Angeles Times.

According to the report, the current three-tier system – community colleges, California State University and the University of California – was originally developed to expand enrollment for an influx of baby-boomers. Now these segments are failing to produce sufficient degree holders in a new era of finite resources. The report found that all three segments had lagged behind institutions such as Stanford, Harvard and MIT in adopting online technology that could reach thousands more students.

The report said that all three segments had lagged behind institutions such as Stanford, Harvard and MIT in embracing online technology to reach thousands of students.

“California is projected to face a shortfall by 2025 of 1 million students with four-year degrees and more than 2.3 million with degrees, certificates and diplomas needed to meet the state’s workforce requirements,” the report said. “Enrollments at California’s higher education institutions have not kept pace with population growth, and tens of thousands of qualified California students are unable to attend public colleges every year.”

The report found that insufficient course offerings are key stumbling blocks and so-called bottleneck courses – English, algebra, history and others – are in high demand and often over-subscribed. In recent years, for example, budget reductions led California community colleges to cut classes and turn away more than 600,000 students.

Finances are changing, too, as institutions can no longer depend on the general fund to support enrollment needs though the state increased higher education spending this year, according to the report.

“The economy now is a different one than before we went into the recession,” said Stuart Drown, the commission’s executive director. “There is clear job growth in areas that require some level of higher education, and we should be producing graduates here in California.”

Institutions are still concerned about the success of online education. After uneven results at San Jose State University and with Udacity online programs, many faculty, students and administrators remain cautious of online efforts. In a partnership with Udacity, San Jose State University offered online courses that produced mixed results with many students initially failing the for-credit introductory classes. The university temporarily suspended its collaboration with the for-profit online provider Udacity this semester to work out problems with course delivery and completion.

The reports recommends colleges to adopt additional strategies including incentives for developing online courses and linking a portion of state funding to performance metrics such as increased participation and completion rates. College officials say they are still studying and considering the report.

The Little Hoover Commission is an independent, quasi-governmental 13-member panel whose conclusions are submitted to the governor and legislature.