In dealing with tight budgets, limited access to courses, growing costs to students, and concerns about educational quality, we’re noticing that governors and legislators in states and provinces are asking tough questions. Many see technology as part of the answer and they are engaging their higher education leaders in designing ways to better serve their citizens’ needs. Florida and California recently held statewide meetings addressing these issues. We’ll soon have a blog post on the Florida meeting. Covering the discussion in California in today’s guest blog, we welcome Phil Hill, co-founder of MindWires Consulting, as a guest blogger. Phil is a consultant and industry analyst covering the educational technology market primarily for higher education. Catch Phil on twitter @PhilonEdTech.
In past years the primary role of state government was to take the lead on funding while working with statewide systems on enrollment policies to serve workforce and general educational needs. Last week in California we witnessed the state government, both from the governor’s office and the legislature, become the driving force of change for determining the role of educational technology and online education to transform the public systems. State officials are no longer content with encouraging and hoping that postsecondary institutions will develop a strategy for systemic change on their own.
Three interdependent events are emerging that clarify this trend.
- After the passage of Prop 30, a tax increase in California directly sold to improve education, the governor’s office has actively pushed two of the three state systems (University of California and California State University) that solely relying on tuition and fee increases to manage budgets is no longer acceptable. The systems are being pressured to use technology as a primary tool to reduce the cost of education.
- The 20 Million Minds Foundation sponsored Re:Booting CA Higher Education conference, bringing together national leaders in online education, statewide system administrators, students and faculty leaders to discuss the key issues involved in expanding online education within a public system. (Full disclosure – I gave advice on the organization of the event and acted as moderator).
- The governor’s office released the 2013-14 budget proposal that increased funding for higher education while strongly pushing the systems to apply educational technologies and online education in a strategic sense.
The common theme was captured by 20 Million Minds leading up to their conference:
“As a first approximation, the state should focus its attention on arresting the growth of the cost of education while maintaining or even increasing access and quality, not by simply urging educators to “do more with less,” but by enlisting their active participation in and contribution to innovative approaches. [snip]
[The state should] take a leadership role and accelerate our efforts to take advantage of the cost-saving potential inherent in online education.”
New Role of State Government
What is new in this discussion is the role that the governor’s office and legislature are taking in forcing these issues.
Governor Jerry Brown kick-started the discussion in November in his meetings with the University of California board of regents and California State University board of trustees as described in the LA Times article.
“In order to meet the needs going forward without constant large tuition increases, there will have to be different ways in which people learn and people teach,” Brown said [snip]
Brown said he wanted those talks to be “not in the gilded tones of academia but in the harsh reality of the marketplace and technologies.”
These ideas are central themes of the governor’s proposed budget, as described in this story from CBS Los Angeles.
“Brown proposed a plan to steadily increase funding for the three systems over the next four years, but only if they freeze fees at current levels, noting that UC and CSU tuition has nearly doubled over the past five years. [snip]
“The people in the university are going to have to find a way to do the same thing with fewer growing resources than they’re used to,” Brown told reporters Thursday. “Can we turn down this relentless increase in spending that is so much higher than the cost of living?”
Brown wants colleges and universities to expand the number of online courses they offer to reduce costs and allow more students to get the classes they need to graduate.
His budget plan calls for UC and CSU to each spend $10 million to develop digital versions of high-demand courses — and $17 million for the community college system to develop a “virtual campus” of 250 new online courses.”
In his welcoming remarks to the Re:Booting California Higher Education conference, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg called for an expanded view of public education to move beyond “teaching to the tests”.
“The question, in my view, isn’t how we replace UCLA or other fine institutions or how we supplant what is going on. The question is how we broaden the definition of public education, with all the academic rigor we currently have, but to bring in more career and workplace application. Take more of our educational experience outside of the classroom, and then use the web and use the technology that we have supplementing real-life experiences for students.”
Jeff Selingo (who gave the keynote at the conference) offered his perspective on the lieutenant governor’s involvement in the conference.
“You won’t often find the lieutenant governor of a state at a higher-ed conference, but there was Gavin Newsom of California sitting next to me on Tuesday at UCLA for a discussion about how online learning might help the state’s cash-starved public colleges increase access. He wasn’t there just for a photo-op. He stayed basically the entire day and took notes. A lot of them, and on the subject (I looked). He rarely glanced down at his phone.”
Of the three public systems, only the Community College system has aggressively expanded online offerings as a strategy for managing costs. Currently 17% of CA community college courses are offered online.
The next major events in this saga will be the follow-up meeting at the UC Board of Regents (Jan 15-17) and the CSU Board of Trustees (Jan 22-23). These meetings will be crucial in seeing how the systems respond to the calls from Brown, Newsom, and Steinberg. As pointed out in the Sacramento Bee, the “university system is administered independently by the regents and subject to only limited legislative oversight” – there will be a give-and-take of hard and soft influence required for state officials to prompt significant changes in system strategy.
But for now, the simple fact that the state government leaders have taken over the driver’s seat in the discussion about the role of online education, with system leaders being pulled along, is a significant change in California higher education.