California higher education problems stem from resource allocation, report says

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A report released Sunday by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni proposed that California’s higher education problems stem not from a lack of funding but from a misallocation of current resources.

The Washington, D.C.-based independent nonprofit organization published the report amid debate about whether the crisis of public higher education should be addressed by increased fees, program cuts, alternative sources of revenue or a mixture of all the issues. The report notes that while tuition has increased by 28 percent across the nation in the last five years, UC tuition has risen 73 percent and CSU tuition has increased 84 percent.

Rather than driving up the price of tuition further, the report argues that public universities should cut programs with low enrollment and utilize online technology and cross-campus collaboration to make them become more efficient and accessible.

“No institution can be everything to everybody,” said American Council of Trustees and Alumni Vice President of Policy Michael Poliakoff. “The cost of that will be the decline in standards and opportunities across the board.”

In 2010-11, the CSU system had 512 degree programs, and the UC had 792 such programs that produced fewer than 10 graduates, the report states. The report prescribes a transition to a model which utilizes online and shared resources between campuses to maintain programs lacking strong graduation numbers.

“By using the powerful technological tools of interactive video and online learning, campuses can not only expand opportunities but enhance learning by bringing campuses together with shared costs,” Poliakoff said, who also cited the University of Pennsylvania system as an example of the adoption of such measures.

UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said the report had questionable methodology.

“(The number of graduates a department produces) doesn’t mean that a program is not essential,” Klein said of the report’s call to make changes to departments that produce few degrees, such as physics. “Looking at data of graduates can misconstrue the purpose of the program.”

Klein said the university was already addressing many of the prescriptions that the report proposes. She pointed to a pilot program, UC Online, as a way for students to take courses for credit, regardless of which campus they attend.

UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore expressed opposition to cutting or altering smaller programs on campus.

“We know that Berkeley students and alumni feel that this is what makes Berkeley unique — that the university can offer a variety of courses (and) studies that allow students to explore, become more well-rounded, more worldly, and better prepared to make a difference in the world,” Gilmore said in an email.

Aside from program “bloat,” the report suggested several other areas of improvements to efficiency that the UC, CSU and California Community Colleges should consider such as late graduations, better utilization of facilities and lower administration compensation. The program also cited the $320 million cost to renovate Memorial Stadium and the $193 million renovation to Lower Sproul Plaza as questionable projects.

“What should the 21st century university look like?” Poliakoff asked. “Should it be a brick and mortar institution of ever-growing buildings, or should it be looking at a more agile way at making the superb education it offers more available through technology interactive?”