Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Sheepskin Envy

One of the fights we are in this year is an odd one. About 45 years ago the state adopted something called the Master Plan for Higher Education - whose most important tenet was "differentiation of function" - the state made a decision to focus each of the public sectors. So, UC was given doctoral and professional education, CSU was given undergraduate education, and the Community Colleges, would be open ended places to do the first two years. The systems were given differential admissions requirements and fee structures.

The system offered something positive and something negative. The positive created a UC that is often described as the best public research university in the country. The negative is that completion rates, especially in the CSU and Community Colleges rank California near the bottom among the states.

But as William Massey, the sage of Stanford, once said universities are often stuck in the lattice effect. Everyone is not satisfied with doing their job well but want to offer more programs at the next higher level. CSU, several times, has asked for authority to offer doctoral degrees. Each time they drum up a need and then try to press it forward. Several times they have argued that since they train teachers they should have independent authority for an Ed.D. But each time previously the efforts have been held up on logic - the expense of new programs would divert resources from the key purpose.

Three years ago, Charlie Reed, the bombastic chancellor of the CSU system, who came from that bastion of educational excellence Florida, pressed hard for authority to offer the Ed.D. In Florida you can get a degree at almost any public institution - but can you think of any nationally ranked educational institution there? He maneuvered to cut out the independents and concluded a deal with UC where he would renounce the need for a big investment in joint programs. Based on the experience since then - there have been a number of new programs developed between CSU and UC as well as one big one with the independents and CSU. For that deal, he put up a lot of dough and also agreed to renounce the envy for the future. The future only lasted about three years.

Now Reed would like to offer clinical doctorates - in Audiology and Physical Therapy. Without a real demonstration in need, without any serious attempt to move forward with joint programs - he wants the independent authority to offer these programs. The problem is if they do not use state support - the programs will be priced as much as existing programs. At the same time, since doctoral programs are expensive to develop, undergraduate programs in CSU are likely to suffer even greater degredation in graduation rates.

Why couldn't CSU concentrate on its primary tasks and do them well - i.e. graduate undergraduates in a reasonable amount of time? Many of the most selective undergraduate programs in the country do that quite well. It is odd. In any other industry there is a recognition that doing what you do well is an admirable goal - would Starbucks begin to offer hamburgers?

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