Tuesday, June 28, 2011

She Knows There's No Success Like Failure And That Failure's No Success At All

So it appears that we will have a budget either today or tomorrow.  The Governor has given up his search for phantom Republican support and has agreed to sign a slightly modified version of the budget that the Democrats in the Legislature passed a few weeks ago.  It is not a pretty picture.

  • The new budget agreement is built upon the cuts that were already imposed in March.  For Higher Ed this fact means $500 Million in cuts for UC and CSU each as well $400 Million cut for the Community College System.  The budget does nothing that I can see to restore funding for health care for the poor and elderly, continues to squeeze the K-12 system, significantly cuts the Calworks program, and accepts the cuts to the state's Court systems.
  • Based on additional revenues that have come to the state so far this year, the budget assumes a very optimistic revenue scenario for the rest of the year.  But if the revenue estimates prove unrealistic then there are triggers for additional cuts.  These include an additional $100 Million in cuts for both UC and CSU, the possibility of further cuts to K-12 and a further shortening of the school year.  
  • As a result, it is more than conceivable then that both UC and CSU will end up with $750 Million dollars in cuts by the end of the fiscal year.   
  • Brown and the Democrats are talking about putting revenue initiatives on the ballot in November of 2012.  The Republicans are sure to counter with attacks on pensions and calls for a strict spending cap.  It will be a very difficult election battle and one that everyone needs to attend to.
  • Indeed, perhaps the only success in this failure is that the Republicans were so zealous in their refusal to consider having an election on Brown's tax extensions (a vote there was no guarantee Brown would carry this fall) that Brown did not give them their demands on pensions and spending caps.  The latter in particular would have ensured the decay of governmental services in the state and would have, almost inevitably destroyed what remains of public K-12 education. 
Brown has effectively wasted the first 6 months of his second governorship.  Rather than taking the opportunity to challenge the status quo and inequalities of California's political economy he helped entrench them even more.  The only success here is that the Republicans failed to impose their vision on long-term governmental budgeting.  But that isn't much to claim.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Budget Day

Updated Below: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Today is the deadline for the Legislature to pass a budget without having their pay frozen.  So it seems like that something will emerge by the evening.  There is no guarantee that what passes today will actually become the state budget (there is no requirement that Jerry Brown sign it in order to keep his pay from being frozen).  But given that the Democrats have decided that the Republicans will not compromise what emerges today will probably be the best that we will see.  And it will be pretty bad.  Among other likely actions will be another 300 million dollar cut to higher ed (split between UC and CSU) as well as other deferrals.   For a quick look at what is on the table today see:



UCOP responded in its usual forceful manner:

"We are assessing the latest proposal from the state Senate, and it's too soon to say with certainty what the impact would be. But there's no question that additional cuts would not be good news for UC and the Californians it serves. The university already has taken steps to absorb a $500 million cut, and we have been preparing contingencies in the event of an all-cuts budget. Any further cuts would threaten our ability to provide access, affordability and academic excellence."

Update 2:

The Senate Passed the Main Budget Bill this Afternoon.

Update 3:
Yudof and Gould Respond to the Budget (h/t Dan Mitchell) 

Update 4:
Brown Vetoes the Budget  

Update 5:
Democratic Leadership Responds to Veto  

We will update the story as, if, we get more information.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Recentering Academic Development

Over the past two weeks academia has been buried in a blizzard of reports, which is a symptom of the current pandemic of concern about the state of U.S. higher education.  These reports include
  • the Education Trust's Priced Out, about the extent to which rising tuition and funding cuts are hurting low-income students
  • a dull but worthy report from UVa's Miller Center calling for a stronger focus on degree completion
  • an analysis by the Richard Vedder shop of UT-Austin's recent data dump on faculty productivity, arguing that higher ed's funding problems can be fixed by getting rid of a large number of the least productive faculty
  • the widely discussed "What's It Worth?" report from Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce that correlated differentials in wages with college majors.  It turns out that engineering majors make more than studio artists! Lower wages also unsurprisingly correlate with "womens' work" and with professions that care for and develop people rather than manage money and commodities. Though the study was reviewed in some quarters as a sign that correct market incentives would force students out of their 'fluffy majors" and toward gainful employment, Patt Morrison's disussion with the report's lead author, Anthony Carnevale, and the comments on her web page, suggest instead (1) a backlash against the injustice of the labor market and (2)  defenses of those non-technological majors that are directed at forming cultural, social, and historical knowledge, solving social problems, developing personal capabilities, and helping the individual student understand his or her future possibilities in society.
Which brings us to the real star of the show, Richard Arum and Josipa Roska's book Academically Adrift, which was widely reviewed a few months ago.
Many reviews hooked it into the current trend of bashing colleges to justify massive, absurd cuts in their public funding. Their study does suggest that students aren't learning enough in college.  But their real story is much more powerful than that. They replace stock metrics like degree attainment with specific academic development goals, and measure how well students are doing at mastering these. 

Today the Los Angeles Times published their useful crib of their book.  There you can read the following elements:
  • outcomes are faltering because "many students were not being appropriately challenged," i.e. were not being given enough work. 
  • the main reason is that universities have strayed from the core mission of instruction (I would add research which they do not). "Many institutions favor priorities that can be boasted about in alumni magazines and admission brochures or that can help boost their scores in college rankings." 
  • this amounts to a major paradigm shift in which "Colleges have abandoned responsibility for shaping students' academic development and instead have come to embrace a service model that caters to satisfying students' expressed desires."
  • the correlative is the replacement of academic-instructional with non-academic professional staff, or in other words the administrative bloat that has increased pessimism and cynicism about higher education's priorities among faculty and voters alike.
There's a vicious cycle here, in which senior managers saw alumni and donors willing to pay for a range of expensive services, benefits, celebrations, atomospherics, and derivative products (e.g. high-end medical services) but not for instruction or basic reserach, so they moved university resources very logically towards the service model for students and donors-businesspeople-politicians alike, which increased the quality advantage of those services over that of the core mission, while also requiring the increased hiring of non-academic administrators.

Much of the public is no longer willing to pay for the service-university, where so much of that service is clearly going not to their children or grandchildren or neighbors children but to the usual suspects at the top of a society whose growing inequality has led to their own economic decline.  It could be an entirely different story for the development-university, one centered on the academic development of all of its students, undergrad and grad, through teaching and research alike.

We need to take a chance that a broad majority would pay for that, and offer it to them.

Unwavering Adherence to Failed Strategies: Analogical Version