The state’s system of public higher education is in dire need of competent leadership. The Los Angeles Times, among other media outlets covering education reported this week on the daunting task the state faces in the wake of recent announcements of the imminent retirement for two of the heads of California’s higher education systems.
The impending retirement of the heads of the Cal State University system and the California Community Colleges, coupled with the departure of UC Berkeley’s Chancellor Robert Birgeneau have left a void in leadership which may prove difficult to fill given the severe budgetary woes experienced by the state over the past few years, with additional cuts expected to take place if Democratic Party championed tax initiatives placed in the November ballot fail to pass.
In the case of the 112 campus strong California Community College System, Chancellor Jack Scott announced his retirement in March after four years serving at the top. His departure comes at a time of increasing fiscal unrest, as the community colleges grapple concurrently with state budget cuts and an increased demand for affordable education due to the struggling economy.
Scott has been praised by many for his moving the system forward at time of increasing difficulty with dwindling resources. According to the California Community College’s Chancellors office, since 2008-09, the community colleges have been cut by $809 million, and total enrollment has gone down by 300,000 students.
With such a staggering figure and with the possibility of further reductions, it would seem a lot to ask for Scott’s successor to possess the vision to carry the system into greener pastures, but at least the foundation for student success, despite trying fiscal realities has been laid out.
Recently Scott and outgoing California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed, praised the first group of graduates who have been awarded Associate in Arts for Transfer (AA-T) and Associate in Science for Transfer (AS-T) degrees in a variety of disciplines and who now are headed to California State University campuses to earn their bachelor’s degrees.
California Undergraduates would do well to learn about the new AA-T and AS-T degree options, which are designed to help students complete their transfer requirements with guaranteed admission to a CSU campus with junior standing, after successful completion of outlined requirements.
“The California Community Colleges and the California State University system have been working very hard and with great cohesion to get this Associate Degree for Transfer program up and running and this year we are seeing the first graduates, the pioneers if you will,” Chancellor Scott said recently in a prepared statement. “As a result of deep cuts in state funding, CSU has severely restricted admissions for the spring 2013 term to nine campuses and will only admit California community college transfer students who have an associate degree for transfer (AA-T or AS-T).”
For Reed, who steps down after a 14-year tenure as Chancellor of the CSU system, it may prove more difficult to define his legacy. Not lost amidst praise by contemporaries and the media for his efforts to secure partnerships with business and industry, are allegations and criticism by the California Faculty Association that Reed was mostly out of touch with the 23 CSU campuses and students he served, favoring executive compensation while instructors and students weathered severe cuts and tuition increases. This coupled with an investigation by California Watch, revealing the CSU spent $2 million remodeling presidential homes, have cast a blemish on Reed’s legacy and has served to further erode the public trust in highly paid administrators.
A recent editorial in the local newspapers called for raising the fees at Community Colleges from the proposed $46 per unit to $56, rationalizing that even at the higher rates, they would still be a bargain in comparison to the national average. I say we look into trimming executive compensation and enacting more effective forms of compensation disclosure as alternative solutions.
The fear over California losing touch with the original Master Plan for Higher Education, which guaranteed educational opportunities for all students deserving of such, being replaced by an increasing privatization of the higher education system is not just a perception, but is increasingly becoming a reality.
As the Legislature pulls out funding from education, more and more our institutions have sought to court out of state tuitions, underscoring this troubling trend in education which moves away from the masses towards the uber wealthy. It is imperative that both CSU and the Community College sytems’ new leaders, whoever they turn out to be, return to providing the competent leadership entrusted in their institutions of training the state’s future work force and of educating all those who show merit, not just those who can afford it.
Follow Ariel Carmona on Twitter at @AOCarmona