Closure of state commission could limit access to aggregated higher education data

The closure of the California Postsecondary Education Commission this fall will mean that, for the first time in 38 years, aggregated higher education data will not be available to the public.

The termination of the commission — whose website receives up to 120,000 hits a day, according to Karen Humphrey, executive director of the commission — is scheduled to occur sometime in the weeks prior to early November. After that, policymakers, reporters and the general public will be forced to look elsewhere in order to access and analyze higher education information.

“There are other options available once the site goes down, such as think tanks and the UC and CSU systems themselves, but that’s about it,” said Courtney Miller, communications director for Marty Block, D-San Diego, chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. “There is no other organization that is authorized to house all of this data as of now.”

As for the fate of the commission’s data, the organization is working with the California Legislative Analyst’s Office in order to develop a solution.

“We won’t have anything to do with physically moving the data, but we are involved in discussions with policymakers about where the data should go,” said Judy Heiman, a principal analyst for the office. “We think it’s important that it remains available. It’s really the only place to get statewide information like that.”

The commission, which is the only organization that continuously compiles data from the UC, CSU and community college systems, was eliminated by Gov. Jerry Brown on June 30 from the 2011-12 state budget. Running the commission cost the state $11 million in 2010-11, according to that year’s state budget.

“We have done quantitative and qualitative research, such as enrollment demand projections, research around affordability and transfer functions, and then produce reports that incorporate policy,” said Humphrey.  “The purpose is to inform policymakers, and others as well, to recommend state policy. By talking about what the needs are and issues of access and opportunity for higher education, we are planning for the future.”

Although the data may be preserved, there seems to be less hope for former commission employees. As prescribed by state law, once a government organization’s funding is cut, employees are given special preference in locating replacement positions for 120 days.  However, according to Humphrey, due to a high volume of former government employees whose jobs have also been cut, no one from her staff has been able to locate an opening for future government employment.

In addition to aggregating data, a large part of the commission’s role is to investigate proposed programs to ensure that education investment moves in the right direction, she added.

The commission has had an important role in evaluating the value of educational programs for colleges and universities, recommending against those it deems ineffective, Humphrey said.

One example of this comes from the commission’s recommendation on the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants Program, a professional development tool for California K-12 schoolteachers, for which Brown decided to preserve funding. But, according to Humphrey, data from the commission show that this tool for teacher development rarely increases student achievement, even though $8 million is provided annually for the program. The program, which will be affiliated with the commission until its closure, will most likely continue at the California Department of Education.

Although the commission has until early November to close, Humphrey said the site could be shut down as early as in the next two weeks.

Jessica Rossoni covers higher education.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that it cost the state $11 million to run the California Postsecondary Education Commission. In fact, it cost $11,048,000 to run the commission overall, but the state contribution to the commission was $2,013,000, according to the 2010-11 governor’s budget.