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Student Success (Cal-PASS), is a product of the community
college system. Cal-PASS has pioneered a system for sharing
data among K–12 schools, two-year colleges and four-year
universities as the basis for professional learning councils where
faculty can work together to improve curricular continuity
between the segments. While it is viewed as a promising
initiative to support improvements in instruction, it is also true
that Cal-PASS has walked into a vacuum in state policymaking
and finds itself taking on aspects of a K–16 agenda that analysts
say wouldmore appropriately be
championed at the state policy level.
While many of these reforms are
now considered national models,
California’s overall policy dilemmas
remain unaddressed. Some outside the
policy community are working hard
to change that. Retired accrediting
officials SteveWeiner and DavidWolf
started the Campaign for College
Opportunity, which seeks to highlight
the state’s need for a plan to educate
the next generation of Californians.
The campaign has built a broad-based
coalition. Another organization that
came into being, the California EDGE
Campaign (Education, Diversity and Growth in the Economy),
focuses on ensuring access to postsecondary education and
training that prepares Californians for career-path employment.
Though these groups have brought new attention to the
educational needs of the state—and deserve some credit for the
growing public awareness—it is far too early to knowwhether
that awareness will be sufficient to translate into a coherent set
of policies.
Conclusion
In early 2008, observers were closely watching two
developments for insights into California higher education’s
future: the vacancies at UC and the California Community
Colleges, and the state’s projected (and growing) budget deficit
of $15 billion.
InMarch, the UC Regents namedMark Yudof the first
outsider to run the university inmore than a century. Yudof,
who has headed the University of Texas system for the last six
years, was brought in after UC had been pummeled by bad
press and legislative scrutiny. Though issues of executive pay
were the focus, the regents and the accrediting commission had
concluded that the less seductive issue of bureaucratic bloat at
UC’s Oakland headquarters was threatening to undermine the
system’s overall effectiveness. Yudof ’s experience andmindset
were considered right for the assignment of restructuring,
even though his compensation package of more than $800,000
(nearly double his predecessor’s) was raising the very same
eyebrows as the university’s previous questionable executive pay
practices.
As bureaucratic accretion troubled UC’s leaders,
bureaucratic starvation at the community college chancellor’s
office accentuated the difficulty of recruiting a strong leader
there. The small staff and lack of authority—not to mention
the low salary—were widely understood to have contributed
to Drummond’s decision to return to the Los Angeles district.
The weakness at the chancellor’s office was at once a product of
the system’s historic belief in local autonomy as well as the state’s
placing a low priority on community colleges and their students.
Ultimately, the colleges were successful in recruiting Jack
Scott, a former community college president and powerful
chair of the state Senate Education Committee, to take on the
job after becoming termed out at the end of 2008. Community
college advocates expect the choice to help boost the profile
of community colleges in California. But at the age of 74,
Scott is not expected to have a long tenure, which has raised
some doubts about his ability to tackle the system’s series of
challenges.
How higher educationmanages to simultaneously transition
to new leaders and leaner budgets could be a strong indicator of
whether California is poised to develop a serious policy agenda
for higher education.
An initial signmay have come with the defeat of
Proposition 92. Despite its failure, the ballot initiative
nevertheless helped highlight the important role of community
colleges in the education pipeline and the challenges they face.
Within days of the initiative’s defeat, Reed, a vocal opponent,
extended an olive branch by coordinating a joint advocacy
effort for the three higher education segments. With the acting
heads of UC and the community colleges, he met with news
organizations around the state to advocate for increasing
resources for higher education. “America has to get away from
this Reaganomics. My theory is that if you’re sick, you’ve got to
take a little bit of medicine to get better,” he said in one of his
standard lines. “It might not taste good, but if you want to get
well, you’ve got to have a combination of budget reductions and
revenue increases.”
While Reed predicted that the legislature would ultimately
adopt, with the governor’s blessing, some type of tax increase,
analysts were increasingly convinced that only a combination
of revenues and reforms would helpmove California out of
its higher education conundrum. As for reforms, indications
were strong that 2008 could usher in some medicine for higher
education via a new era of accountability: Both Reed at Cal State
and Yudof in Texas had led their institutions to participate in
a voluntary accountability system, and Scott had spent several
years shepherding accountability legislation that he hoped to
pass before becoming chancellor.
“People are just beginning to wake up,” said Reed. “The
general public, policymakers, legislators, everybody has realized
in the last couple of years that if California is going to continue
to have the sixth or seventh largest economy in the world, if
California is going to continue to have per capita income that
it has had in the past ten or 15 years, if Californians are going
to have a quality of life, then they’re going to have to depend on
what I call a newworkforce. California’s economic future, its
cultural and community future, is tied to howwell-educated its
citizens are going to be.
“Can California continue to reinvent itself every decade or
so?” Reed asked. “Higher education has always played a role in
every decade that that has happened.”
u
Independent consultant Pamela Burdman is a former higher
education reporter for the
San Francisco Chronicle
and former
program officer in education at theWilliam and Flora Hewlett
Foundation.
As higher education has
become increasingly
necessary for anyone
wishing to pursue
career-path employment,
the community college
system has become more
and more important.