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February 2008 (Proposition 92) seeking to bringmoremoney
to the systemand insulate it from the K–12 budget decisions.
Through the statewide referendum, they sought to ensure
community colleges’ portion of the state budget while reducing
fee levels from$20 to $15 per unit.
“It’s a response to an untenable situation,” saidDale
Shimasaki, a veteran higher education political consultant, at
the time. “They’re trying to figure out a way to get some stability
and not have to fight with K–12 all the time.They don’t like that
situation, and I don’t blame them for it. When you fight adults vs.
kids, the kids generally win. It’s a loser issue to be boxed in on.”
Despite forging a rare alliance among college presidents,
union leaders, faculty and students (for whom the fee decrease
was predictably popular) in their plight to be freed of K–12
fetters, the initiative ultimately brought the colleges into direct
political combat with K–12. Opposition by the California
Teachers Association (the state branch of the National Education
Association), along with both of the university systems, several
business organizations, low-tax advocates and the governor
doomed the effort. Announcement of a $15 billion budget
shortfall only solidified the opposition.
But while community college leaders understandably were
looking for a way out of their funding dilemma, and the initiative
could have buttressed their fortunes for a few years, it seemed
unlikely to remedy the overarching problems facing the state any
more than the compacts with the universities have.
Indeed, the ballot initiative gambit is a symptomof the state’s
segmented approach to higher education.The state’s focus “has
been toomuch on institutions and not enough on the state’s
productivity,” said Longanecker. Indeed, the segmental structure
itself has made it difficult to stimulate a focus on state-level
measures of educational performance such as has occurred in
other states. “While other states aremobilizing in response to
the state-by-state report cards issued by the National Center
for Public Policy andHigher Education, no such activity has
occurred in California, because these state-level measures of
educational performance do not have any natural audience,”
noted Shulock in an analysis of California’s governance structure.
Against that backdrop, even themost promising reforms
that have occurred since themid-1990s appear marginal at
best, though some have promise for addressing the state’s need
to educate a diverse population. Faced with a prohibition on
affirmative action beginning in 1997, for example, the UC
systemembarked on various admissions reforms and outreach
programs. From1996 to 2006, themost dramatic demographic
change inUC’s entering freshman classes was among white
students, who constituted 32 percent of freshmen in 2006, as
compared to 41 percent a decade earlier. At the same time, the
number of AsianAmerican students had increased from29 to 34
percent. Latino students’ share of freshman classes also increased,
from13 percent to 16 percent, still far below their percentage of
the state’s 18-year-olds. AfricanAmerican student enrollment
remained constant, but low—at less than four percent.
But in a sign of continuing dissatisfactionwith the status
quo amongmany at the university, a statewide faculty council
recommended revising UC’s longstanding policy of admitting
the top 12.5 percent of students in the state.The policy would
reduce the guarantee to only the top nine percent, allowing the
admissions office tomore thoroughly review the applications
from students above and below the 12.5 percent cutoff.
While affirmative action is less relevant at Cal State, with its
less selective admissions, the 23-campus university has embarked
on extensive community outreach tominority communities.
In February 2008, the systemconducted its fourth annual
Super Sunday, making appearances at more than 60 African
American churches and contacting some 80,000 families. Over
the past decade, Cal State has also sought to reduce the need for
remediation, by requiring students to take remedial courses right
away, and by adapting an 11th grade standards test to provide
early information to students about their readiness for college-
level work.
Though the assessment programhas been considered a
model K–16 policy by organizations such as Achieve, the results
of the entire 12-year remediation effort have beenmodest to date,
and they do not approach the 1996 goal of
eliminating remediation, set by Chancellor
Reed’s predecessor, BarryMunitz. “We
havemade progress in themath skills, but
not in the English, reading, and reading
for comprehension,” said Reed. “The single
biggest challenge in California education
is to get people to be able to read with
comprehension.”
Nevertheless, the progress inmath is
encouraging: While 54 percent of entering
freshmen neededmath remediation in 1997,
the percentage in 2007 was just 37 percent.
Cal State’s requirement that students complete
their remedial coursework early in their college careers may have
contributed to a noticeable improvement in six-year graduation
rates (from38 percent to 48 percent). Transfer student
completion rates have also improved, but the overall graduation
rates remain low, partly because of a significant enrollment of
part-time students.
Under Drummond’s leadership, the community college
systemadopted a strategic plan. Partly as a result, the systemhas
begun to tackle one of themost critical problems facing the state:
the large proportion of its students who require remediation,
and the small proportion of themwho ultimately succeed in
higher education. InterimChancellor DianeWoodruffmade the
system’s newBasic Skills Initiative, at more than $30million, her
number-one priority. Because amajority of the system’s students
enter unprepared for college-level work, the initiative is seen as
critical to enablingmore students to earn associate’s degrees,
certificates, or to transfer to four-year institutions. It could be one
of higher education’s most important initiatives.
But success is far fromguaranteed, if Cal State’s experience
provides any guidance.The community college effort seeks
to address even lower levels of preparation, and unlike Cal
State’s, has yet to set any clear targets for improved outcomes.
Because of the colleges’ federated structure, withmuch authority
resting within 72 independent boards of trustees, reforms have
historicallymoved slowly and lacked statewide coherence. A
bill to pilot Cal State’s early assessment program for community
colleges, for example, has been stalled in the state legislature for
the last two years, apparently because it was originally opposed
by the colleges’ faculty senate, and because of differences about
funding needed to support the program.
Another initiative intended to address issues of preparation
and transition, the California Partnership for Achieving
Sixty-five percent of
Californians (up from
48 percent in 2000)
said that many who
are qualified to go
to college don’t have
the opportunity.