January 28, 2023
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Editorial: Brown leaves key elements off table in university debate


For a few days during the past week, higher education reform has moved to the top of the agenda for Gov. Jerry Brown.

In blunt talks to the California State University and University of California systems, the governor laid down a series of political markers. He said he wants more teaching, less administration and more online learning opportunities, in return for restoring some money to budgets.

Although it’s not clear how much cooperation he’ll get from the notoriously independent-minded CSU and UC systems, his remarks take aim at a core part of the economy of the Tri-Counties.

After all, our three big universities — Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UC Santa Barbara and CSU Channel Islands — are major employers and major contributors to the overall health of business in the region.

Our concern is that Brown, while correct in arguing for system-wide change, leaves a few key elements off the table, including:

• Encouraging public-private partnerships.

In a public-sector constrained world, it is the private sector that will have the capital to fund major advances in higher education. Wealthy individuals and corporations can fill the gap — and they will encourage higher achievement, not a race to the bottom.

• Reforming work rules and pensions.

The governor has made some constructive proposals on pension reform — those need to be part of any conversation about holding higher education costs down of the long haul.  But the UC and CSU systems are falling badly behind in creating more flexibility for staff and pensions are still a long-term cause for alarm. Work rules that allow more flexibility particularly for CSU staff would be welcome.

• Carefully getting on the online bandwagon.

Distance and online learning will transform higher education worldwide, and Brown is smart to encourage California’s flagship public institutions to get in the game.

But a strategic move to the online world, as opposed to a headlong rush, will prove more useful to faculty, students and the overall institutions.