Wednesday, July 15, 2009

California's Broken Promise

Great article from SF Chronicle on the broken promise of California's public higher education: Ending the California Dream. As the authors point out, it was widespread access to public universities that allowed California to become one of the largest economies in the world:
Before World War I, when California was a giant farm irrigated with federal water, a "plantation model" of education prevailed: Educate the elite and keep the rest at a minimally functional level. After World War II, with military aerospace and then computers driving growth, California built public universities open to everyone who showed drive. By combining mass access with the highest quality, California built a highly educated workforce of unprecedented size and depth. It made California's economy the envy of the world.
And there are plenty of reports (here, here and here) that point out the critical role the CSU has had on California's economy, with the most often quoted impact being: "For every $1 the state invests in the California State University, the California State University returns $4.41."

If that's the case, it should be a no-brainer to our state legislators to fund our public universities, get folks into college, and get them to graduate so they play a critical role in our economy--right? Right?

In California, the college participation rate of 19-year-olds fell from 43 percent to 30 percent in just eight years (1996-2004), dropping California from 17th among the 50 states to 46th, one of the quickest educational declines in developed nations.
And it's not just an issue of affordability and access to our universities either. It's also about the quality of education our students are receiving:

What do such cuts mean? All other things being equal, 25 percent cuts mean 25 percent fewer courses for more students or a 25 percent increase in the size of courses that remain. Students will learn 25 percent less, and take 25 percent longer to graduate. Because 25 percent of four years is one year, college will now only deliver three years of learning in four more costly years.
So in addition to the students who can't get into college, there's also the issue of those who can't get out, meaning we've got a higher education system that can't deliver graduates who can enter California's workforce and play a role in our infrastructure & economy (and believe me, we need graduates to enter our workforce). So what's the solution, you ask?

The only practical way to restore California's promise of having the world's best public universities for the greatest number is to rebuild public funding for UC and CSU.

Some may say this vision is unreasonable given economic realities. The reality is this: Californians can rebuild the public higher education system that delivered golden age California, or watch that system be gutted in a way that prolongs the recession.