Thursday, November 08, 2012

Friday Fragments

Congratulations to the long-suffering California public higher education system, which received a stay of execution from the voters.  Proposition 30 raises enough revenue to prevent the next round of cuts, and to actually plan something.  Even better, the voters sent enough Democrats to the legislature to achieve the supermajority status that California quixotically mandates for any tax increases.  (Tax decreases don’t have the same requirement.)  

My hope is that the sector recognizes this for what it is: a brief interruption of a longer term trend.  Democratic supermajorities don’t last forever, and a long term plan that relies on biannual sales tax increases will run aground quickly.  

The best use of this moment is for repositioning.  Since the immediate fire has been contained, there’s a chance to float some serious proposals to make the system sustainable even after the inevitable Republican recrudesence.  For example, letting campuses set, and keep, tuition/fee revenue would finally tie costs to revenues in a useful way, and would have the salutary effect for California taxpayers of sticking the Federal government with a bill (via financial aid) that right now California pays for itself.

The next two years are a test case.  Used well, the system could potentially make itself viable.  Used as nothing more than a respite or a brief taste of partial restoration, though, it would just postpone the inevitable.


Coffee makes life better.  Science proves it!


The Boy and The Girl really impressed me on election night.  In fact, my whole town did.

My town had a voter turnout rate of over 90 percent, which was a new record.  It felt like it, too; the line was long, and I saw a bunch of people I knew.  The Wife baked some treats for the PTO bake sale at one of the other polling sites, so after I voted, I delivered the treats there and saw even more people I knew.  The joint was jumpin’. There’s something heartening about that.

But the kids were even better.  The Girl, all of eight years old, did a nice explanation of the electoral college at dinner, explaining how it was that a “big” state like Alaska had fewer votes than a “small” state like ours.  She and The Boy watched the election returns with us until bedtime, cheering along with us.  

As they get older, they’ll decide their own political leanings, and that’s fine.  (We’ve been careful never to demonize the other side.  We have a rooting interest, but always try to present it as a matter of agreeing more with one side than the other, rather than some sort of holy war.)  But I’m glad that they’re learning that politics is a legitimate subject of interest.  I picked that up in my family as a kid, and I’m glad that TB and TG are getting it, too.  I want them to see election nights as exciting, and not just for the relief of the campaigns finally being over.  At base, elections are exciting because they matter.  I’m glad that TB and TG are getting a sense of political interest as something that normal people have.


Amy Laitinen and Stephen Burd, from the New America Foundation, posted a wish list for higher ed for President Obama’s second term.  It’s well worth checking out.  It’s mostly about improving measurements and outcomes, with some attention to financial aid.  

I agree with most of it -- gainful employment being a partial exception, given that many community colleges have more of a transfer focus -- but would add two things.

1. Robust “maintenance and improvement of effort” requirements for states.  When the Feds increase reporting requirements while the states either cut or flatten funding, the cost of measurement actually comes out of the same pot used for performance.  When you have to leave faculty lines unfilled to hire more institutional research staff, it’s fair to ask whether the tail is wagging the dog.  If we want real improvement, we have to admit that all this data gathering and analysis costs money.  I think it’s well worth it, but it has to come from somewhere.

2. Failing that, I’d like the Feds to bundle long-term funding for IR staff in these requirements.  You want us to track down every graduate of every program for the last five years, cross-check their student loan balance and payment records, verify their salaries, and post everything in a dynamic public website.  Okay, pay for someone whose job it is to do that.


The Big Reveal is almost here!  Stay tuned...