From the Dean's Desk
December 10, 2013
Dear CHABSS Community,
Today I would like to break with tradition a bit. While my notes to the College often speak to important accomplishments and activities, I would like to share my thoughts on the landscape of higher education in California and what it means for us as a College. As some of you know, I pay close attention to the higher education policy conversations at both the state and national levels. A few weeks ago, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsome released a policy statement that he promoted with the non-partisan Committee for Economic Development (CED). While many policy papers have been written, I believe that this policy statement is worthy of discussion in the College for several reasons. First, Lt. Governor Newsome is a member of the CSU Board of Trustees and, as such, has a powerful role in shaping CSU policy. Second, the Governor’s Office and the California Legislature have not been shy about weighing in on higher education policy (see Steinberg legislation and Gov. Brown’s online push, for recent examples).
There are several important takeaway points from this report that I’d like to highlight, paying particular attention to what this means for us in the College.
First, the report provides a cogent demographic analysis of who our potential future student population will and should be. The aging of the baby boomers proceeded by much smaller cohorts of offspring suggests that our workforce will have fewer individuals to fill the places of the boomers. The fastest growing demographic? Students of color; precisely those who are most educationally at risk. Thus, we are well positioned to have a tremendous impact on California and will do so by serving an increasingly diverse and educationally at-risk student population.
Second, the report suggests that campuses should work to increase the number of students who attain degrees. This means that universities, and by implication programs, need to work to ensure that we work to both retain students and graduate them in a timely manner. Indeed, many states have moved toward a performance-based funding model that funds universities, in part, on their success in graduation rates. I don’t believe that there is serious talk of this in California yet, but I would argue that we have an obligation to pay very close attention to this. What can we do? Participate in the Faculty Mentoring Program; ensure that we schedule courses that students need first and foremost; talk to your students about your curriculum and help guide them – don’t just direct them to advising; when students are struggling, talk to them and if necessary work with Student Affairs and/or Leo Melena in the Dean’s Office to direct them to appropriate services at the University that may help them. It is important to remember that we all have a stake in our students’ success.
Third, in addition to increasing the number of degrees awarded, the report also suggests that degrees must have value to recipients. But what is “value” and is it feasible to objectively define value? The federal government has devised a rating system in which it attempts to define the best value among universities. Additionally, the President has suggested that federal student aid be tied to criteria including graduation rates, graduates’ earnings, proportion of students pursuing advanced degrees, and costs of programs. If less than half of our students are graduating in six years, are we providing value? If our students are having a difficult time competing for jobs, are we providing value? While these conversations are ongoing at various levels, they are real and do give us pause to ask the basic question: Do our current or proposed degree programs provide intrinsic and extrinsic value? We will increasingly be asked to justify our value, not simply defend it, and we ought to be prepared to do so.
Fourth, the report argues that learning needs to be measured. Per the report, “ultimately, learning and competence, rather than credit hours and other measures of time devoted to postsecondary instruction, should become the primary determinant of educational quality.” Is this the end of the credit hour? Probably not, but this certainly (re)emphasizes the critical importance of assessment in our academic programs, particularly given our impending WASC reaccreditation. Many of our academic programs in CHABSS are doing a fantastic job moving forward with their assessment planning, data collection/analysis, and ultimately informed decision-making, but we need to do better and take this seriously. We must get used to assessment as a normal part of our academic work and realize that assessment can help us make the value argument discussed above.
Finally, we will likely continue to serve our students in a fiscal climate that is less generous than in prior years. For example, the report indicates that the CSU is currently funded for ~200,000 FTE but we deliver ~350,000 FTE. While the report suggests that new investments should be made in the CSU, a major theme of the report is that we must be more innovative and better utilize our existing resources to meet the needs of our students. Clearly, a major push in this report and in the Governor’s Office in general has been the use of technology. I encourage all of us to think about how we can leverage technology in the most pedagogically appropriate ways to improve student learning, provide access to courses and degrees, to facilitate our students’ progress to degree, and to use our instructional dollars more efficiently. CHABSS faculty are already heavily involved in the 21st Century Learner project with the Faculty Center and I am hopeful that our continued engagement in this and other projects will lead to smarter and more innovative ways of harnessing technology. While we do this, it is important for us to reinforce the message that faculty should be at the center of technology-aided instruction, not the technology itself. At the same time, let’s not get so defensive about technology that we refrain from engaging in the productive conversations that could lead to real innovation.
My hope is that this report, and my comments on it, provokes some thought and discussion about enhancing our ability to better serve students. Ultimately, I believe that if we understand the landscape we can better situate ourselves, our values, and our mission, to chart a successful course.
Wishing you and yours Happy Holidays.
Dean, College of Humanities, Arts, Behavioral and Social Sciences