AirTalk for February 1, 2013

Education leaders debate the future of public higher education in California

Community College Chancellor

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Brice Harris responds to a question during a news conference where he was announced as the new chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, in Sacramento, Calif. Harris, who has spent nearly 16 years as chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District, replaces Jack Scott, who retired this month after more than three and a half years in the position.

Timothy White

Steven Cuevas / KPCC

Timothy White addressing student demonstrators at an Occupy rally.

Mercer 11909

AP / Paul Sakuma

University of California President Mark Yudof speaks during a news conference at UC offices in Oakland, Calif.

Steve Rhodes/Flickr Creative Commons

ReFundCA and Occupy demonstrators march against tuition increases in San Francisco on November 16, 2011.

Tuition Protest Signs

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

UCLA students hold up tuition hike protest signs on Monday.


Rising tuitions, student unrest, "distanced" learning, the challenges of for-profit colleges and trimmed budgets — what do all of these factors mean for the future of higher education?

Our distinguished panel of higher-educational leaders representing the diversity of California's public higher education institutions — President Mark G. Yudof of the University of California system, Chancellor Timothy Peter White of the California State Universities and Colleges, and Chancellor Brice W. Harris of the California Community Colleges — weigh in one the biggest and most pressing issues facing California's higher-learning systems.

They address the growing concerns from all sides, from qualified students getting declined admission to educators wondering about budget cuts and salaries.

"We do a better job of educating low-income students than just about anyone out there," said Yudof. "But its a big problem particularly for the middle class. So we're trying to modulate it, we're going to try and keep the tuition down, we're going to have to reengineer how we deliver some of our educational services."

The president and chancellors tell us if California public schools are still able to compete with private universities. Private universities are able to pay higher salaries to their professors, so does this lower the caliber of education among the UCs and Cal States? Also, where are the funds in public higher education going? Is it being wasted on tenured educators and pay raises?

"We have 60 Nobel laureates, I prefer they not leave our campuses," said Yudof. "Yes the salaries have gone up, yes we need to be competitive, but we're really not competitive on salaries with the Ivy League and other places like that."

This week, the University of Wisconsin released the first competency-based online degree program. Our speakers discuss their learning philosophies and question if graduates need to master a broad range of subjects or if competency is sufficient. If so, perhaps online degrees would be a sustainable model that California should consider exploring.

"Today we're doing about 13,000 classes online and we have 84 undergraduate and Master's programs either wholly or partially online," said White. "The other part of it all I would say that the financial model as it is today is not sustainable, but the public good of having an educated society is also something that California can ill afford not to have."

As for veterans returning to college, Chancellors Harris and White talk about what is implemented at community colleges and Cal States to care for the men and women who have served this country.

"The number of colleges in our 112-college system that now have active veteran centers has doubled because we're seeing dramatically increasing numbers of veterans on our campuses," said Harris. "They do have some unique needs…The board of governors has awarded enrollment prioritization to our veterans so they have a little bit easier time getting classes."

In particular, White says veterans have unique needs related to PTSD and other injuries sustained during their active combat days. 

"These men and women have served us and its time for use to serve them," said White. "These percussive injuries are causing so many cognitive changes and there's a pride in not wanting to admit that. Sometimes they might not be able to learn as quickly, but they can learn as much."

Although counseling and other programs are set up for them, how can they receive adequate attention when the counselor to student ratio averages one to 2,000?

"We can do some things to technology to automate our students accessing their records so that counselors so that counselors can spend more time counseling," said Harris. "At the end of the day these institutions are financially challenged, and we're finally seeing a bit of a floor with Prop 30  and a little more funding and we think the days are going to get better in the next few years, but we have a long way to go."

To conclude this discussion, Larry asks each of them a final question: If you could change anything about the current system, what would it be?

Yudof: "I'd take 30, 40, 50,000 more students, because I think we should be growing much more than we are to serve a growing population in California, majority Hispanic kids in the schools. I think we've done a pretty good job of deploying tenured and tenured track faculty, but we have a few campuses where our achievement lever is not that high. I'd like to see the regular faculty routinely teaching undergraduates. I'd like to see more research, because it brings money into the state and people discover things that are important to Californians."

White: "We have a 12-percent increase in applications, some 760,000 applications for last year, we'll admit 100,00 of them and I would try to grow our capacity. I would decrease the gaps between our students graduation rates."

Harris: "I would restore access to this system so we're not shutting the door in the face of students and at the same time help them succeed in far greater numbers. Student success and access. I would make certain that somebody works at the 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade level in elementary school to make every child in California at least believe that if they want to go to college they can."

Guests:

President Mark G. Yudof, University of California
President Yudof has headed the University of California system since June, 2008. The UC is acknowledged to be the premier public university system in the world with ten campuses, five medical centers, three affiliated national labs, 220,000 students, and 185,000 faculty and staff. Yudof has formerly served as the president of both the Texas and Minnesota state-wide university systems.

Chancellor Timothy Peter White, California State University and Colleges
Chancellor White has just taken the reins of the California State University and College system, a network of 23 campuses, almost 427,000 students, and 44,000 faculty and staff. It is arguably the largest, the most diverse, and one of the most affordable university systems in the country. Chancellor White served as the chancellor of the University of California, Riverside from 2008 through the end of 2012.

Chancellor Brice W. Harris, California Community Colleges
Chancellor Harris was appointed head of the California Community College system in November, 2012. The system includes 112 colleges and 2.6 million students. It is the largest system of higher education in the nation. Chancellor Harris previously served as the chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District serving 85,000 students in Central California.

Sponsored by Community Advocates, Inc.


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