A recent report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) is scathing in its assessment of California’s public system of higher education, but according to Gary Jason writing on Minding the Campus, it doesn’t go nearly far enough.
The writers of the report identify themselves as outsiders right from the outset by saying that those that seek to blame the system’s programs on recent reduction in funding are barking up the wrong tree. The revenues aren’t the problem, the report finds — the problem is how those charged with steering the behemoth are spending money.
The report states openly and rightly the problems that California’s public colleges face are not primarily a function of declining revenues. As it notes, “the real danger is a fundamental failure by today’s trustees and system leaders to apply the same creativity and thoughtfulness that informed the Master Plan to a new world of reduced resources and a shrinking tax base.”
The paper outlines several pressing problems in the CSU and UC systems, among them the abysmally low CSU graduation rate, an obsession with new buildings completely unrelated to pressing needs, and the out-of-control administrator-to-student ratio. The report also chides those in charge for being unwilling to make tough choices in the face of new economic realities. Not enough low-enrollment programs are being targeted for either closure or merger, while there remains an unwarranted enthusiasm for creating new ones.
Jason goes on to point out some of the problems that aren’t mentioned in the report such as troubles faced by the state’s community colleges. Only about one in five students who enroll in a California community college will receive a two-year degree or transfer to a four-year school. He also accuses the community colleges of allocating too many resources on recreational programs for adults. Although those kinds of courses are supposed to be revenue neutral, they take up valuable school resources.
The whole CSU system has suffered endemic “mission creep” regarding remedial education. Under the wise original 1960 master plan, CSU would take only college-ready students, while those needing remedial education (in math and English) were supposed to go to the huge and inexpensive CCC system. Along the way, the CSU system developed a costly remediation system. Now, half of all incoming CSU take remedial math or English or both.
Instead of trying to recruit a faculty of exceptional instructors, CSU headhunters are instead trying to pad the payroll with researchers. Obtaining tenure-track positions at any of the campuses requires publication, and new full-timers expect to spend most of their time somewhere other than a lecture hall, leaving actual instruction to part-timers and adjuncts.