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Study accuses California's higher education systems of poor coordination

California’s three systems of public higher education need to coordinate better, eliminate duplicate programs and make it easier for students to transfer from community colleges to Cal State or University of California campuses, according to a report released today by the state Legislative Analyst's Office.

The study suggested more statewide oversight to ensure that UC, Cal State and community colleges don’t take steps that harm the other systems. For example, the report says that Cal State’s recent move to cancel spring admissions is causing a backlog of students needlessly staying at community colleges and that the upcoming UC changes in admissions standards may cut into Cal State’s enrollment.

The report, called "The Master Plan at 50: Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts -- Coordinating Higher Education in California," said that too many decisions are based on the institutions’ pride rather than the state’s needs. So the study calls for reforms at the California Postsecondary Education Commission or replacing that agency with one that would better coordinate policies.

Fifty years ago, California established a landmark master plan for higher education that carved out different roles for UC, Cal State and community colleges, but the study says those roles are no longer clear. "California, which set the gold standard for higher education planing in 1960, now stands alone among sizable states in its lack of established goals, a statewide plan and an accountability system for higher education," it said.

-- Larry Gordon

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They also need to offer more classes online

California higher education needs to address the leadership roles of Chancellors. UC Berkeley’s recent elimination of popular sports programs highlighted endemic problems in the university’s management. Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s eight-year fiscal track record is dismal indeed. He would like to blame the politicians in Sacramento, since they stopped giving him every dollar he has asked for, and the state legislators do share some responsibility for the financial crisis. But not in the sense he means.

A competent chancellor would have been on top of identifying inefficiencies in the system and then crafting a plan to fix them. Compentent oversight by the Board of Regents and the legislature would have required him to provide data on problems and on what steps he was taking to solve them. Instead, every year Birgeneau would request a budget increase, the regents would agree to it, and the legislature would provide. The hard questions were avoided by all concerned, and the problems just piled up….until there was no money left.

It’s not that Birgeneau was unaware that there were, in fact, waste and inefficiencies in the system. Faculty and staff have raised issues with senior management, but when they failed to see relevant action taken, they stopped. Finally, Birgeneau engaged some expensive ($3 million) consultants, Bain & Company, to tell him what he should have been able to find out from the bright, engaged people in his own organization.

From time to time, a whistleblower would bring some glaring problem to light, but the chancellor’s response was to dig in and defend rather than listen and act. Since UC has been exempted from most whistleblower lawsuits, there are ultimately no negative consequences for maintaining inefficiencies.

In short, there is plenty of blame to go around. But you never want a serious crisis to go to waste. An opportunity now exists for the UC president, Board of Regents, and California legislators to jolt UC Berkeley back to life, applying some simple check-and-balance management principles. Increasing the budget is not enough; transforming senior management is necessary. The faculty, students, staff, academic senate, Cal. alumni, and taxpayers await the transformation


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