Things must be pretty bad in California if it takes the New York Tims to assemble a coherent argument to save their universities. But this is what happened today in an NYT editorial stating that current plans to force the universities to shift to online teaching will probably wreck the UC system, fail students who need the university most, and damage the California economy to boot:
“Even before the recession hit, the public colleges and universities that educate more than 70 percent of the nation’s students were suffering from dwindling state revenue. Their response, not surprisingly, was to raise tuition, slash course offerings and, in some cases, freeze or even reduce student enrollment. The damage was acute in California, whose once-glorious system of higher education effectively cannibalized itself, shutting out a growing number of well-qualified students.
“The same California State Legislature that cut the higher education budget to ribbons, while spending ever larger sums on prisons, now proposes to magically set things right by requiring public colleges and universities to offer more online courses. The problem is that online courses as generally configured are not broadly useful. They work well for highly skilled, highly motivated students but are potentially disastrous for large numbers of struggling students who lack basic competencies and require remedial education. These courses would be a questionable fit for first-time freshmen in the 23-campus California State University system, more than 60 percent of whom need remedial instruction in math, English or both.
“The story of how the state’s fabled higher education system got to this point is told in a troubling analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank. In simplest terms, the state has been de-emphasizing higher education spending for decades while shifting more money to other areas, most notably corrections. The net result is that despite growing demand, spending on higher education over the last decade has declined by 9 percent while expenditures for corrections and rehabilitation have shot up by more than a quarter.
“For these reasons, the report says, the percentage of recent high school graduates who enroll in the state’s public universities — including the 10 noted research campuses of the University of California, like the Berkeley campus — declined by about a fifth over the last five years. Many of the state’s brightest students appear to be attending schools in other states, raising fears that they might never come back. Other students have settled for poorly staffed, overcrowded community colleges and are unlikely to move on to four-year colleges. Alarmingly, the institute estimates that about 10 percent of students who qualified for admission to the elite University of California system did not enroll anywhere, perhaps because they were turned away from their first-choice schools.
“The report suggests that the portents for California’s economy are not favorable. If the current trends continue — with some students leaving and others deciding not to go to school at all — California, which cannot rely on imported graduates for its labor force, could fall one million college degree holders short of what it needs to drive its economy by 2025.”