Jerry Brown’s recently released plan for education has a few good vague ideas sprinkled amongst some very bad notions. Starting with the good, Brown does recognize the problem of increasing tuition due to the decrease in state funding: “Recent state budgets have raised tuition drastically, reduced the number of new students--as well transfers from community colleges--to CSUC, cut class sections so that students cannot get basic classes they need, and driven good professors to other states. Students are dropping out because of high costs and the extended time needed to finish. California’s historic public university research base is declining.” Not only does Brown stress that the reductions in state funding have led to higher tuitions and fewer classes, but he also laments the loss of professors due to budget reductions.
Is first solution to this problem is to following the current governor and demand that money being spent on prisons is transferred to higher education: “We must also reverse the decades long trend of transferring state support from higher education to prisons. We can do this without sacrificing public safety. For example, as Attorney General, I recently blocked a proposed $8 billion prison hospital expansion—which was unnecessarily expensive and which would have added substantially to our state’s deficit. By relentlessly pursuing similar cost savings, we can channel needed funds to our higher education system.” The problem with this solution is that it is hard to imagine how it can take effect without changing the Three Strikes law and major drug decriminalization.
The next solution that Brown proposes should scare all of us. Like the UC upper administration, Brown endorses online education as a solution to many of high ed’s fiscal problems: “ The introduction of online learning and the use of new technologies should be explored to the fullest, as well as extended University programs. Technology can increase educational productivity, expand access to higher learning, and reduce costs.” Brown’s take on distance education recycles all of the questionable premises that drive the current UC initiative. In this naïve assessment, Brown thinks that access can be increased and costs deceased by some magical form of high-tech efficiencies. I have already written why the result of this process may be to increase costs, produce more work for faculty, and lower the quality and reputation of the university’s education.
The other great fantasy solution that Brown copies from the UC Commission on the Future of the University is to increase the number of transfer students: “Transfer courses should be closely aligned with, and accepted by, the CSUC and UC systems. For example, transfer students are often forced to take redundant courses to graduate from the CSUC system even though they have completed equivalent coursework in community college.” As I have previously argued, increasing the number of transfer students will only decrease the funding of the university since most of the UC’s profit is made from lower-division, high-enrollment courses that transfer students do not have to take. Of course since Brown, like most of the UC administrators, does not actually understand how the UC makes its money, all he can do is propose unrealistic and unhelpful suggestions. However, we must keep in mind that the other candidate is actually much worse. In other words, we face another election of holding our collective noses while we vote.