Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Aspirations versus demands

One of the legislative battles that I am engaged in at the current time is whether the California State University should be authorized to issue doctoral degrees independently. Under current policies, CSU is limited to joint programs with the independents or UC. Several times since the adoption of the Master Plan for Higher Education the system has attempted to broaden their authority and each time the legislature has been reluctant to accept the arguments.

This time there are two arguments for the change. First, is that there is a continuing need to doctorally trained people especially in audiology and physical therapy (and also education). Here at least there is some evidence that a lot of people want a degree - even if there is less evidence that society needs doctoral training in these areas. The audiology request stems from a decision by the private specialized accrediting body that changed its rules to require that audiologists must be doctorally trained.

Second, CSU claims the other segments are either too expensive or too aloof to be bothered with these "clinical" or "practitioner" degrees. Never mind the recent study by Art Levine at Columbia Teacher's College that suggests that Ed.D.s are not demonstratably useful in managing public schools of today. Never mind that UC has worked with CSU in the last couple of years to create a bunch of new joint programs. And nevermind that several independent colleges and universities have expanded their capacity in recent years. The CSU definition of need is based solely on aspirations - conceivably anyone who ever expressed a remote desire to get a doctorate should be able to get one at almost no cost.

The CSU uses some sly arguments to advance their position. First, they suggest that compared to other states, California has fewer persons serving in the public schools who have doctoral training. It is one of those social science correlations that are statistically correct but wrong on their substance. Has anyone ever done a correlation between the number/percentage of doctorally trained administrators and success in the public schools?

CSU claims they will offer the program for what is costs to produce it using something called the graduate marginal cost methodology (read fees of about $8000 or $9000) with no additional General Fund support. Those institutions that have started doctoral programs have found how expensive it is to do them well. So the number may be a bit optimistic. But when we looked at our institutions and factored in the institutional assistance that is available and the cohort structuring - which assures that a student will graduate in a reasonable period of time - the net price difference between the two programs would be very small.

But then you need to look at the students. The average age for doctoral students in these kinds of programs is late thirties. Ed.D. programs are among the most diverse in the country. For example if you look at the USC site for their most recent admits ( more than 60% of the students are African American, Asian, Latino or Native American. That kind of diversity prevails throughout the sector.

Wouldn't it be better for the CSU to spend a bit more energy on improving performance in their key areas - undergraduate education and producing teachers and nurses?

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