Category: Education

The Lake Wobegon Effect at Cal State

WILLIAM G. TIERNEY, professor of higher education, USC’s Pullias Center.

This op-ed originally appeared at the Huffington Post on Sept. 27.

Garrison Keillor has long told stories about Lake Wobegon, his mythical home out there on the edge of the prairie “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” California State University is inventing its own Lake Wobegon in dealing with entering freshmen who need to take remedial classes in math and English.

For years, Cal State University has had a significant remediation problem, spending about $30 million annually – or 2 percent of its instructional budget — on preparing entering freshmen for college-level work. In spring 2004, it rolled out the Early Assessment Program to reduce its remedial burden. Prospective students take a test before their high-school senior year that tells them if their English and math skills are college-level. If not, they are encouraged to take courses to correct their deficiencies before enrolling in the fall.

The Communication Field Lives in an Ivory Tower

ERNEST J. WILSON III, dean of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

This op-ed originally appeared in Inside Higher Education on July 29.

It has become conventional academic wisdom that the modern world is leaving the industrial age and entering a post-industrial age driven by networks of digital communications. Yet despite the unprecedented shift of technology-enhanced communication to the center of our modern lives, the academic field of communication has failed to live up to its potential as a central scholarly field for our time and remains, relatively speaking, on the sidelines. Communication scholars have failed to seize this moment’s unprecedented opportunities, and the field remains too much at the periphery of scholarship and public engagement.

How Community Colleges Can Keep Sacramento Pols Off Their Backs

ALICIA DOWD, associate professor, Rossier School of Education, and co-director for Center for Urban Education, and ESTELA MARA BENSIMON, professor of education, Rossier, and co-director of CUE.

This op-ed originally appeared at the Huffington Post on April 30.

The recently released California community college system’s Student Success Scorecard has rightly drawn praise. The web-based scorecards contain comprehensive information on students’ performance at each of the state’s 112 community colleges, making details about student outcomes the most easily accessible in the nation. The Scorecard reveals how colleges are doing in retaining and graduating students, remedial education and job-training programs, with data broken down by gender, age, race and ethnicity. The added information about race and ethnicity, new to this accountability report, is crucial in a system in which latinos and other students of color form the majority.

While students can use the scorecard to pick a campus, its main purpose is to provide data to community college leaders that they can use to zero in on what is impeding students’ performance and design remedies. But as important as the Student Success Scorecard is as an accountability tool, it does not ensure meaningful change because neither rewards nor penalties are attached to using the data or to improving scores.

Schools Are Hardly Gun-Free Zones

RON AVI ASTOR, professor of urban social development, USC’s School of Social Work and Rossier School of Education.

This op-ed originally appeared at CNN on Dec. 21.

Last week’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, appears to have at least temporarily changed the debate on gun control and opened the door to new restrictions.

Following up on his pledge to “use whatever power this office holds” to prevent another slaughter at a school, President Barack Obama has said he will submit new gun-restriction proposals to Congress in January. But the obstacles to progress remain formidable, chief among them the political power of the gun-rights lobby in Washington.

A Hail Mary to Save Proposition 30

DAN SCHNUR, director of USC’s Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Since the day he took office, Gov. Jerry Brown has been on a crusade to convince Californians that he is not just fiscally responsible but downright stingy. During his first week as governor, he ordered thousands of state workers to give up their government-issued cellphones. Since then, he has negotiated to rein in pensions for public employees, initiated welfare reforms that were included in the last budget and bragged about his preference for flying Read more →

Privatizing the Public University

WILLIAM TIERNEY, director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education, USC’s Rossier School of Education.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Recently a committee of the University of California’s Academic Senate effectively threw cold water on the plans of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management to take its M.B.A. program private.

The plan was for the program to give up state funds and, in return, for the state to give the school more leeway in issues such as setting tuition. The school’s faculty and the UCLA Senate had approved the plans, but it ran into unanimous opposition from a committee of the Academic Senate. It was troubled that donors might have too much influence, that faculty priorities might shift, and that costs would rise without sufficient financial aid for poorer students.

Making Universities and Colleges More Military Friendly

RON AVI ASTOR, professor of urban social development, Schools of Education and Social Work

This op-ed originally appeared at the Huffington Post.

Relations between academia and the military services are not known for their cordiality. The flash point was the Vietnam War. Campuses across the country were incubators of the anti-war movement and arenas for major protests. Many units of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps were shut down, especially at the Ivies. More recently, the government’s “Don’t-Ask-Don’t Tell” policy for gays was a source of friction at some universities.

Career vs. Family in the Halls of Academia

ELIZABETH CURRID-HALKETT, associate professor, USC Price School of Public Policy.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

I recently had coffee with one of my top doctoral students, a woman in her late 20s. After years of slogging through data sets for her dissertation, she told me she would finish her doctorate in public policy but not pursue a career in academia. Stunned, I asked why. She was about to get married and hoped to start a family, she said, and she’d concluded that she couldn’t be the mother she aspired to be and a contestant in the pressure-filled tenure-track race at the same time.

Colleagues at other universities tell me similar stories of star female students either abandoning career ambitions or “underplacing” themselves — turning down prestigious fellowships and accepting jobs at less competitive universities — so they can focus on raising children and enjoying family life.

California Needs a Politics Rooted in 2012, Not 1978

DOWELL MYERS, demographer and planning professor, Price School of Public Policy.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

At the root of California’s dysfunctional politics lie some old ideas about who we are as a state. Demographics have been more volatile here than in other states, and many Californians older than 55, who make up roughly 46% of state voters, don’t want to pay for changes they never welcomed. The tragedy is that they are battling problems that have largely dissipated. The outlook for California going forward from 2012 is very different from what it was two decades ago.

Take population growth. The 1980s brought an unprecedented growth spurt for the state, with population increasing by some 6.1 million people. This far exceeded the population growth of 3.7 million people in the 1970s and 4.3 million in the 1960s.

The Price of College Affordability

WILLIAM G. TIERNEY, university professor, USC Pullias Center for Higher Education.

This op-ed originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The political standoff in Washington over extending low interest rates on student loans would have been unimaginable a generation ago. Back then, there was an unwritten compact between government and higher education. Everyone largely assumed that if government — that is, taxpayers — financially helped more people attend and graduate from college, we would all be better off in the end. A college education was considered a “public good.” Now it’s a “private good,” and the individual student is increasingly picking up the tab.

This shift in responsibility began in the mid-1980s, but it has exploded during the Great Recession. Revenue-starved states have slashed their higher-education budgets, forcing public universities and colleges, where three of every four students enroll, to dramatically raise tuition and fees. There is a limit to all this, and we may already be at the tipping point of affordability. Student debt, at $1 trillion, is now greater than credit card debt.