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CA Legislature Tries Rebooting Accountable Education Agency Jerry Brown Defunded

Jerry Brown fracking (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)
Jae C. Hong / Associated Press
Newport Beach, CA

The California legislature is trying for the seventh time in a row to revive an independent higher education accountability agency defunded by Gov. Jerry Brown’s his first line-item-veto in 2010.

The California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) served as the state’s independent agency to provide input on higher education policy planning, research, and analysis for 38 years, until it was eliminated by Brown just five months after returning as governor in January 2011.

Brown claimed that it was redundant since the University of California, California State University, and California Community College System each provide similar research. But only CPEC provided a statewide overview of the effectiveness of educational spending.

The legislation, titled “AB 1936: Office of Higher Education Performance and Accountability (OHEPA),” would create an eight-member board that would hold open public meetings to advise the governor and legislature on goals for higher education, and to measure the overall effectiveness of California state spending on higher education. The Senate already passed a similar bill, titled SB 42, and both Democrats and Republicans voted unanimously for the bill in the Assembly Education Committee.

But as long-time Sacramento reporter Dan Walters wrote for the CalMatters blog, observers are expecting AB 1936 to fail, just like each bill introduced in the last seven years has failed. Walters suggests the administrations of each of the three branches of California’s higher education have no interest in being subjected to regular evaluations for effectiveness.

According to an analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), the state’s higher education system is failing to keep up with the economy’s changing needs. PPIC predicts that California will be short 1.1 million bachelor-degreed workers by 2030.  PPIC agrees that part of the coming skills shortfall is due to falling state support that has resulted in spiking tuition costs, limiting student enrollment over the last two decades.

The share of working-age adults ages 18 to 64 with bachelor’s degrees increased from 22 percent in 1990, to 25 percent in 2000, and to 29 percent in 2015. PPIC predicts that 33 percent of California’s working-age adults will have bachelor’s degrees by 2030, but 38.4 percent of California jobs will require a bachelor’s or advanced graduate degree.

PPIC blames ineffective coordination as the bigger culprit that “could curtail economic growth, limit economic mobility, and increase inequality.” Such loss of competitiveness could also cause a “less productive economy, lower incomes and tax revenue, and greater dependence on the social safety net.”

The study highlights that one of the reason that UC inflation-adjusted tuition and fees have almost tripled from about $5,000 in 2002-03 to about $15,000 in 2017-18, is the UC system blocks the Cal State system from granting PhDs, and the Cal State system blocks the Community Colleges system from granting bachelor’s degrees.

If AB 1936 passed, the Office of Higher Education Performance and Accountability could require the state funding decisions for the UC, Cal State, and Community College systems be tied to the growth in the number of college graduates.

But being held to that type of “accountability” is exactly why Walters believes the UC, Cal State, and Community College administrations will move heaven and earth together to kill AB 1936.

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