Keeping UC Berkeley's promise
Q: How would you assess the leadership of college presidents in embracing new technology and innovative teaching techniques aimed at reducing costs, improving quality and reengineering higher education? What leadership steps would you recommend for them?
Spring is the most beautiful time to come to UC Berkeley. The campus blossoms, not only with the brilliant Bay Area landscape, but also with caps and gowns, stoles and leis, festivities and celebrations that go along with graduation.
Absent are the echoes of protest from Berkeley students and service workers earlier this spring. Over the past year, many students and staff have actively resisted the budget decisions made by Berkeley and the greater University of California system. And until recently, the leadership of the University of California seemed too overwhelmed by the budget crisis to reaffirm their primary mission: to keep the nation's best public school affordable and assessable to California's students.
Berkeley, the unorthodox institution that it is, has been creative in their cuts. They've admitted more out-of-state and international students to boost tuition. They're strategically furloughed staff. They extended winter break by a few days. In some circles, there are pervasive rumors of privatizing UC Berkeley and UCLA, the systems flagship institutions. The University of California's system-wide leadership has taken a similar approach. In their least creative, most protested maneuver, they agreed to raise student fees by 32% in one semester.
The cost-cutting measures employed by UC Berkeley and many of the schools in the UC system neglect the system's foremost mission: to keep the system accessible for California's students. Many of these actions, such as the increases in tuition and costs for student services, make the schools too expensive for too many of the University's current and future students.
The prestige of schools like UC Berkeley comes, in part, from the simple promise that any talented student, from any socioeconomic background, can attend. Keeping that promise must be at the center of any budget decisions made by the University of California system.
Recently, UC Berkeley completed a study that showed that $100 million could be cut from its on-going operational costs. By restructuring administrative resources and preserving student services, the University's leadership creates a win-win for students and the University. Although this isn't a solution to all of the University's budget issues, it is an acknowledgment that positive solutions for solving the budget crisis do exist. Solutions like these are necessary if UC Berkeley is to keep its position as the nation's premier public university. --Lanre Akinsiku
Students taking the lead at community colleges
Unlike larger research universities, community colleges have the great challenge of facing large budget cuts without having large sources of income or strong alumni networks. While less lucrative than larger universities, community colleges have always played a vital role in education, especially in states such as California, where the community college system is a source of pride. With such dependence on state and national funding, many leaders of community colleges have just been forced to make decisions that are difficult and disappointing, but understandable. The best next steps that can be taken include using this opportunity to prioritize services, promote collaboration, and encourage student leadership.
In a time of economic decline, community colleges are witnessing large spikes in enrollment numbers, with colleges such as Santa Monica College (SMC) having a 28% increase in applications. Simultaneously, many community colleges have needed to dip into their reserve funds. Common experiences for community college students include having over-filled classes and not having required classes available. Schools such as East Los Angeles College (ELAC) have been forced to cut some summer sessions.
Amidst these dark times, some community colleges are being forced to prioritize operations, a move that can hopefully lead to a richer educational experience. In ELAC, work skills development has always been a focus of the school. To adapt to the times, ELAC now has a Green Technology and Science curriculum that focuses on green job training at a time where funding for the green job market is expected to expand due to Obama's stimulus package.
Along with new decisions from the top, students are starting to take a more active role in addressing budget issues. Besides large numbers of student demonstrations and presentations against budget cuts, student leadership is beginning to take more active roles in collaborating with school leadership. At SMC, the Associated Students have declared to support the schools through actions such as taking on partial funding of special events, and have outlined ways that their $1 million reserve fund can support the school and make it more sustainable.
While difficult now, the actions taken by leadership in community colleges will hopefully create a more efficient, beneficial operation. The collaborative efforts taken now by schools can only help when funding for community colleges increases in the future. Despite not always having the recognition of bigger universities, community colleges are still recognized as vital for the county's higher education system, as symbolized by Obama's $12 billion community college initiatives. The best actions school leaders can take is to use this budget crisis as an opportunity for action to lay a stronger foundation instead of a period to simply survive. --Jimmy Duong
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