|Photo by Bob Brinkmann|
Universities are under increasing pressure to graduate students within four years, keep costs low, and ensure that they are training students for jobs of the future---all within an environment where professors are developing free open online courses.
It will be interesting to see if common ground can be found between the desires of the governor and the various stakeholders involved to chart a sound course for California's university systems.
The climate for managing higher education is certainly in flux. I believe that in 10 years or so, there will be a great reset. Those universities that position themselves as quality institutions with strong faculty/student links, mentoring, and professional connections will be in a far better position than universities that focus on increasing class sizes, expanding online education, and rapid graduation.
There is nothing particularly wrong with any of those strategies (increasing class sizes, expanding online education, and rapid graduation). However, the emerging job markets in the next 10 years will be in areas that require specialized training and higher order thinking that require excellence.
How does a faculty member recognize truly exceptional talent if s/he is teaching huge online courses at a university that does not foster undergraduate research, hands-on learning, or experiences with professional organizations? It can be done, but will it?
My guess is that the state universities will probably develop more tiered systems and that funding will be cut to some of the mid level and lower level state universities to support quality programs at the flagship schools. States will probably develop entire campuses devoted to online education with others focused on small classes, residential life, and specialized campus programs (note that New York State has a campus entirely devoted to online programs already). In addition, I think that private schools, even though they cost more money, will be positioned well as the states cut budget (and quality) of their university systems. Parents and students interested in quality education will bypass state schools to seek better experiences at private universities or niche public ones.
In Florida, I found that faculty with children often tried to keep their kids out of the public school systems. They recognized that private schools provided better education. The quality of public education in Florida is problematic due to major cuts in spending and the overall lack of taxpayer support for education in the state. Those that did send their kids to public schools moved to districts where the quality of the school was very high. I look at the Florida public school model as the likely trajectory for higher education in the U.S. As budgets are cut at the public universities across the country in an environment where tuition has to stay level or decline, parents and students will opt to go to high-quality private schools where they have confidence in the quality of education.