Category: Universities

Don’t Chuck Remedial Education Out the Window Just Yet

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

This op-ed originally appeared in Inside Higher Education on Nov. 8.

Remedial education in higher education has become a target for reformers. Lawmakers in Florida have made remedial classes in math, reading and English optional for students entering community colleges in fall 2014. The placement tests to assess these skills will be optional as well.

Meantime, Tennessee and Connecticut have passed legislation making it easier for students to bypass remediation and enroll directly in courses that lead to graduation and completion of a major. And California State University has lowered its math and English placement test cutoff scores, requiring fewer students to do remedial coursework.

Roughly 60 percent of the 6.5 million students who enter the nation’s 1,200 community colleges enroll in remedial classes. More than half of them quit before finishing.

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.

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.

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.

Has Proposition 13 Lost Its Relevance?

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

This op-ed originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee.

Proposition 13 is widely regarded as the third rail in state politics: Touch it and you’re politically dead. It has earned that sacrosanct status because it solved some urgent problems for California homeowners. But that was a generation ago, a different time with different problems. As we face the challenge of reviving the state’s housing market and finding a reliable revenue source for freeways, schools and other public services, we should consider how Proposition 13 should serve us in the future.

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.

In China, Blame the Murder Victims

MEI FONG, lecturer, USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

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

After USC graduate students Ming Qu and Ying Wu were shot and killed earlier this month, the Chinese student community in America was saddened, shocked and frightened.

The reaction back home was very different. The killings, which happened while Qu and Wu were sitting and talking in a BMW, unleashed a torrent of Internet vitriol in China, and it wasn’t directed at the pair’s attacker.

The Ivory Tower Can No Longer Ignore K-12 Education

C.L. MAX NIKIAS, president of USC, and WILLIAM G. TIERNEY, university professor and director of the USC Pullias Center for Higher Education.

This op-ed originally appeared in Education Week.

As we look back on research universities in the 20th century, one regrettable legacy we see is the firewall between too many of them and our public schools.

University administrators and professors missed meaningful opportunities to help K-12 educators manage and overcome the challenges they face daily. There was little sustained interaction between public school teachers and professors. Commonalities across high school and college curricula were largely nonexistent. What students learned in a math class in their senior year in high school, for example, frequently did not prepare them for freshman-level math. And the academic and social gulf between high school and university left too many of our poorest children unprepared for the transition.

This disengagement has much to do with how research universities were born and evolved in the 20th century. Institutions that were small, parochial scholastic backwaters morphed into academic powerhouses whose raison d’être was research. Faculty members doing research earned new respect within and outside the academic world, a development reinforced by the rise of nonacademic funding sources, such as foundations. By the end of the 20th century, research-oriented professors received higher compensation than their peers who only taught in the classroom. Growth and distinction became the new watchwords. Admired throughout the world, these universities helped drive American economic pre-eminence, especially in the second half of the 20th century. But the rise of the American research university had little to do with the creation or sustenance of K-12 education.

Times have changed and so, too, must the research university’s lack of engagement with public schools. No problem is clearer and more compelling where those of us in the research university might add our voice, knowledge, and support.

While not as bleak as commonly perceived, data on K-12 student achievement have remained sobering for over a generation. Many of our urban high schools are “dropout factories,” with up to half of the entering students never graduating. At too many schools, fewer than half the seniors will qualify to enroll in a four-year college or university. At many of our state universities, more than half the entering freshmen require courses in remedial math or English—or both. Several recent studies show that the performance gap between affluent and poor students in terms of test scores, high school completion rates, and, ultimately, wage earnings continues to grow at an alarming rate.