GOP gubernatorial candidate proposes higher education facelift

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A trailing California gubernatorial candidate released an extensive plan to overhaul the state’s education system Tuesday, proposing a major expansion of online course offerings and free tuition for students in math and science degree programs statewide, among other initiatives.

Neel Kashkari — a former U.S. Treasury Department official and business executive running for California’s top office as a Republican — used Tuesday’s 33-page education policy proposal to criticize the performance of Gov. Jerry Brown and suggest a number of significant changes to the state’s K-12 and higher education systems. The proposal contended that “bold action” through education reform could work as a panacea for problems of income inequality and poverty across the state.

“California used to boast one of the best education systems in the nation,” Kashkari said in a statement accompanying the proposal. “With the right leadership and the right reforms, we can transform our schools to lift achievement and rebuild California’s middle class.”

Kashkari’s plan would require the University of California and California State University to make 20 percent of their courses available online within four years to increase course availability across the higher education system and reduce the time it takes students to graduate. The proposal praised the University of California’s cross-campus enrollment pilot program, which was launched in November and enables students systemwide to enroll in online courses at other campuses.

Online education has garnered significant support in the state and the UC Board of Regents over the years, including vocal endorsement by Brown. But UC Berkeley professors have so far remained skeptical about touting online courses as a cure-all.

“The right way to think about online classes is that they’re the evolution of the textbook, not the evolution of the class,” said UC Berkeley professor and chair of statistics Philip Stark in a January interview with The Daily Californian.

But Kashkari dismissed such concerns in a press conference after speaking at UC Berkeley’s Wheeler Auditorium as part of professor Alan Ross’ Political Science 179 class on Wednesday.

“I know there are going to be people who like the system right now, the way it is,” Kashkari said after the lecture. “Frankly, the faculty, who may be dragged kicking and screaming. Well, so what? Too bad. If there’s a great professor at Berkeley, and he or she can beam his course all over the state to students statewide, and that course is suited for online, we’ve got to do it.”

UC representatives said they had yet to review Kashkari’s proposals and declined to comment.

The plan also called for free tuition for college students majoring in STEM — science, technology, engineering or mathematics — fields, in exchange for a portion of graduates’ future earnings, as part of a voluntary program targeted at lower- and middle-class families. The proposal is modeled after a similar program in Oregon known as “Pay it Forward,” in which students sacrifice 3 percent of their annual income for 24 years in exchange for free tuition.

At the lecture, Kashkari also attacked the recent legislative push to reinstate affirmative action policies in public higher education, saying the proposed senate constitutional amendment should have been called the “There are too many Asians at Berkeley bill.”

Jessica Ng, a spokesperson for Kashkari’s campaign, said although Kashkari has met with some individual players in California higher education, he has yet to discuss his proposals with UC and CSU leadership.

Kashkari remains a distant third in election polls behind Brown and fellow Republican Tim Donnelly with the June open primary vote approaching.

Connor Grubaugh covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ConnorGrubaugh.