Help schools help students

HIGHER EDUCATION: Instead of allocating millions to Awards for Innovation in Higher Education, state should help schools with existing programs.

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In order to encourage California’s public institutions of higher education to develop new initiatives to help more students earn bachelor’s degrees efficiently, $50 million was appropriated from the state’s general fund to create a program to reward institutions that are innovating in this way. While this goal is important, these awards will not add much support to the strong mandate schools already have to achieve higher graduation rates, and the funds would be better allocated elsewhere.

The Awards for Innovation in Higher Education is aimed at University of California, California State University and community college campuses. It rewards innovative policies, practices and systems that significantly increase the number of degrees awarded, encourage more students to graduate in four years and ease transfers between the state’s educational institutions. The awards will be granted based on the initiatives’ scale, commitment and ability to achieve the state’s goals at a low cost and without increasing student tuition or fees. The California Department of Finance suggests each award be no less than $2.5 million, which would allow up to 20 awards to be granted to any of the 145 campuses.

While these awards may encourage schools to think of innovative ways to improve graduation rates, it is difficult to develop more financially effective programs when these institutions already cannot secure the money needed to maintain current operating expenses and improve the quality of their education. We are worried schools will look first to online classes as the easy and cheap option for churning out more bachelor’s degrees. Schools are already being asked to develop more programs without receiving a comparable amount of money from the state. The state has not shown it is committed to investing in higher education. While this program is purportedly just that, in reality, it asks schools to compete for a small pile of money: mere change when compared to, for instance, UC Berkeley’s yearly operating budget.

While the state will give selected campuses a significant amount of funds, these awards are handed out on a one-time-only basis. Any future progress of the proposed initiatives and their expansion to other schools might not be possible without additional funds, hindering the future application of these initiatives. The money allotted for these awards could be better assigned elsewhere.

As students, we watch universities cope with rising costs, and we listen to administrators’ plans to improve upon the quality of education without resorting to higher student fees. We already see campuses trying to implement innovative methods through which they can cut costs without hurting students. Our campuses do not need any more incentives to help students graduate. What our campuses do need from the state is additional funding in order to meet the needs our university already has. What our campuses need is for the state to stop forcing schools to shift the burden to students.

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