Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gov. Jerry Brown Looks at Reshaping California's Higher Education

I wrote on this previously, "Governor Brown Seeks Dramatic Community College Makeover."

And now at the New York Times, "In California, Son Gets Chance to Restore Luster to a Legacy":
LOS ANGELES — During a 1960s renaissance, California’s public university system came to be seen as a model for the rest of the country and an economic engine for the state. Seven new campuses opened, statewide enrollment doubled, and state spending on higher education more than doubled. The man widely credited with the ascendance was Gov. Edmund G. Brown, known as Pat.

Decades of state budget cuts have chipped away at California’s community colleges, California State University and the University of California, once the state’s brightest beacons of pride. But now Pat Brown’s son, Gov. Jerry Brown, seems determined to restore some of the luster to the institution that remains a key part of his father’s legacy.

Last year, he told voters that a tax increase was the only way to avoid more years of drastic cuts. Now, with the tax increase approved and universities anticipating more money from the state for the first time in years, the second Governor Brown is a man eager to take an active role in shaping the University of California and California State University systems.

Governor Brown holds a position on the board of trustees for both Cal State and UC. Since November, he has attended every meeting of both boards, asking about everything from dormitories to private donations and federal student loans. He is twisting arms on issues he has long held dear, like slashing executive pay and increasing teaching requirements for professors — ideas that have long been met with considerable resistance from academia. But Mr. Brown, himself a graduate of University of California, Berkeley, has never been a man to shrink from a debate.

“The language we use when talking about the university must be honest and clear,” he said in a recent interview. “Words like ‘quality’ have no apparent meaning that is obvious. These are internally defined to meet institutional needs rather than societal objectives.”

California’s public colleges — so central to the state’s identity that their independence is enshrined in its Constitution — have long been seen as gateways to the middle class. Mr. Brown said his mother had attended the schools “basically free.” Over the last five years tuition at UC and Cal State schools has shot up, though the colleges remain some of the less costly in the country.

Governors and legislatures are trying to exert more influence on state colleges, often trying to prod the schools to save money, matters that some say are “arguably best left to the academic institution,” said John Aubrey Douglass, a senior research fellow of public policy and higher education at Berkeley. So far, Mr. Brown has not taken such an aggressive approach, but half of the $250 million increase for the university systems is contingent on a tuition freeze.

“He’s creating stability, but basically he’s looking at cost containment with an eye on the public constituency,” Mr. Douglass said. “But the system has been through a very long period of disinvestment, and this may meet an immediate political need, but it is not what is going to help in the long term.”
I think he could do more for education --- and for the state as a whole --- by expanding economic growth and opportunity. It would take pressure off the higher education system, for one thing. As it is now the colleges and universities are expected to be saviors for all manner of societal failure, especially crime, poverty and social breakdown. A strong economy, through deregulation and business expansion, would help create a rising tide to lift all boats. I hope that doesn't get overlooked amid all the hoopla about increasing tax revenues. People need to learn the lessons of the past decade.

More at that top link, plus interesting photos.

And from some not unrelated thoughts, see Joel Kotkin, at the O.C. Register, "California Is Becoming Less Family-Friendly."