Thursday, February 25, 2010

Questioning California's Higher Education System

A few days ago in this post I posed the questions, is higher education a public good, a private good, or both? Do taxpayers get their money's worth by subsidizing the cost of higher education?

Today I encounter this story about the deteriorating condition of higher education here in California:

"It is the most significant step California has ever taken in planning for the education of our youth," said Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, while signing the Master Plan for Higher Education on April 26, 1960.

Nearly 50 years later, the plan is faltering, burdened by decades of passive state oversight and a blurring of the roles the state's three branches of higher education were supposed to play.

The results are grimly manifest throughout California...

"California, which set the gold standard for higher education planning in 1960, now stands alone among sizable states in its lack of established goals, a statewide plan and an accountability system for higher education," concluded a January report by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office...

In its January report, the Legislative Analyst's Office recommended what in essence amounted to an overhaul of the higher education master plan...

(Assemblyman) Block and others have suggested that the state's current budget crisis offers an opportunity for a revamping of the master plan – and makes it a necessity, since state support is not likely to increase appreciably in the next few years.

"It's high time we take another look at our master plan and see how we can improve it," Assemblyman Manuel Perez, D-Coachella, said at a legislative hearing on the plan earlier this month.

We might revamp the system, or we might revisit whether there's a public good in the state's spending so much on higher education. After all, it's not 1960 anymore.

I'm not pointing to a particular outcome here, but it's important to reassess whether the conditions of 1960 are still present enough to merit spending as much money as we do for someone else's college education.


mazenko said...

This is non-negotiable. Public investment in higher education is absolutely imperative to a strong nation.

However, the extent is negotiable.

It is too easy to get in, too easy to stay in, too common to fail out, disingenuously sold to too many, and attempting to do too much.

But worth it? Absolutely. Non-negotiable.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Oh, lighten up Mike. Damn near everything, including government support for higher education, is negotiable. Fierce assertions of non-negotiability are just a cheap rhetorical tactic and if it's one thing I can still afford to demand it's expensive rhetorical tactics.

In fact the relatively recent rise of various alternatives at the higher education level argues persuasively that higher education has priced itself out of the market.

Phoenix and Kaplan and a bunch of other similar organizations, with more to follow, suggest strongly that the market for higher education is no longer giving sufficient value and the answer to that reality isn't higher subsidies. That's what got us into this mess.

So yeah, a good starting point for a discussion of the value of higher education is whether society reaps a net benefit by subsidizing institutions of higher learning. The record of government interference in what ought to be a private decision isn't exactly a record of unblemished social good so a worthwhile starting point for discussion is whether tax money has any place in higher education.

mazenko said...

Phoenix and Kaplan? Wait a minute, Allen. You're not implying that those organizations are supplying quality education, are you? Do you know anything about them? About the classes? About the teachers and degrees? Have you ever taken any Phoenix courses or know anybody who has? They are pseudo-degrees, Allen. They are bought simply for credentials and professional advancement.

No, publicly financed higher education is non-negotiable for any first-rate nation and world leader. However, the extent that it should be subsidized is certainly up for debate. There is a reason that our public universities and graduate schools are the first choice for the best of the best world-wide. It's because the institutions are the best of the best.

Perhaps, rather than telling me to lighten up, you might consider be serious and rational.

Ellen K said...

I am not sure of the quality of Phoenix, etc. But there is little pedagogy oversight of grad students that teach in many universities. In fact core curriculum has become a type of grad student jobs program. My kids had teachers who were far more involved in their own research than in teaching class material. One teacher spent the majority of time complaining about his various problems fitting in to American society. Even the learning center assistants could not figure out his criteria for testing. I think the idea that every teacher must hold a doctorate is silly. I know folks who are experts in their field who just have bachelors' degrees, but who also have real world experience. I am tired of marginal professors with tenure and grants getting ridiculous salaries when their teaching is marginal at best. Maybe it is time to rethink the purpose of post high school educational experiences to craft one that is more meaningful and less costly.

Anonymous said...

"Public investment in higher education is absolutely imperative to a strong nation.

However, the extent is negotiable."

This is a distinction without a difference, Michael. If we can negotiate the level down to $1/year there isn't any *real* difference between this and $0/year.

California spends about $12B/year on higher education (see here: How much of this is negotiable to you? And what other parts of the state budget are you willing to cut to keep this? Or which taxes are you willing to raise to keep this (no fair saying "someone elses")? Alternately, are you okay with a 10% increase in your state taxes to keep this at the current budget levels? More? Less?

My *personal* take is that when ~40% of the incoming CSU freshman need to take remedial math or English (or both), we are admitting too many students to *subsidized* 4-year-degree programs. I would be fine reducing the incoming freshman class by quite a bit to UC and CSU *IF* I was convinced that the ones cut would be the ones needing remedial classes. They can go to a JC for two years (still subsidized) and then transfer once they get their AA degree. I am also in a very small minority with this position, I suspect.

-Mark Roulo

Darren said...

If you need remedial math and/or English at a university, you don't belong at the university. I agree that JC's are the appropriate places for such students.

I was very heartened when a former student once told me that he credited having taken my Algebra 2 class with his stellar score on the CSU Entry Level Math Test.