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Posted at 12:22 PM ET, 03/ 2/2011

Cal State's Reed: Don't cut Pell grant program

By Daniel de Vise

California State University broke with years of tradition in the 2008 downturn by adopting competitive admissions. For the first time in a long time, California students in the top third of their classes with B averages weren't guaranteed admission. reed.jpg

Since then, California's catastrophic higher-ed funding crisis has eased some and Cal State Chancellor Charles Reed has steered the 440,000-student system back to open admissions. But the battered economy has stretched California's celebrated Master Plan for Higher Education to the breaking point, Reed said in an interview Tuesday. Proposed cuts to the Pell grant program, he said, are the latest threat.

"The Master Plan, on the funding side, is on a life-support system," he said.

Cal State is the vast middle tier of California's three-tiered higher education system. The community colleges, with nearly 3 million students, are open to all. Cal State, 23 campuses serving nearly a half-million, take solid students and produce most of the state's teachers and much of its professional class. The 10-campus University of California is, even now, the pre-eminent public research university system, taking the top one-eighth of students.

Three-fifths of Cal State students are transfers from community colleges, and several Cal State schools are ranked among the most efficient state universities in the nation.

Yet, the Master Plan is flawed at every level. The community colleges are vexed by low completion rates. Half of Cal State students -- B averages or no -- enter the system in need of remediation. Budget cuts threaten the academic supremacy of the flagships UCLA and Berkeley.

But the downturn has also sparked reforms. Reed and community college Chancellor Jack Scott have crafted a new statewide associate degree that guarantees priority admission and junior standing at Cal State starting in fall. That's a major breakthrough: the average community college student amasses 160 credit hours by graduation, an excess of 40 credits, wasting time and money. The new bill guarantees the transfer student is 60 credits from graduation.

To break the remediation logjam, Cal State is giving its college readiness test to all 11th graders in California public schools. Students who know they're behind in reading or math can retake the crucial gateway courses, Algebra II or English Composition in the 12th grade or during the summer.

A student who manages to pass either class -- and forego remediation -- is far more likely to finish college.

"The 12th grade in California and in America is the biggest wasteland I know," Reed said. Many students coast through the year, he said, because they are only a few credits from graduation and already have a college picked out.

Reed and Cal State presidents were in Washington partly to fight proposed cuts to the Pell program, the largest source of federal need-based grants, potentially devastating to Cal State.

"It is lifeblood for us," he said. Seven Cal State campuses have more Pell students than the entire Ivy League. Four-fifths of Reed's students work.

If Congress wants to save money on the $33 billion Pell program, Reed said, it should consider innovative ways to thin the population of grant-holders.

Why, he asks, should colleges with $5 and $10 billion endowments receive Pell money? Such schools could easily supply need-based grant aid without federal help.

"What the hell does the Ivy League need Pell for?" he said.

Reed also suggests giving public colleges priority over for-profit colleges in receiving Pell dollars.

Cal State has mostly recovered from the worst effects of the downturn, Reed said. In the 2009-10 academic year, absorbing a $625 million budget cut, Cal State reduced enrollment from 450,000 to 410,000 students. This came in an enrollment growth year. The net effect was that 60,000 qualified students had to be turned away -- for the first time in modern memory.

This year, some of the lost funding was restored, and Cal State welcomed 30,000 new transfer students from community colleges.

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By Daniel de Vise  | March 2, 2011; 12:22 PM ET
Categories:  Access, Administration, Admissions, Aid, Attainment, Community Colleges, Finance, For-profit colleges, Public policy, Publics  | Tags:  Cal State University, California higher education, Charles Reed CSU, Pell grants, higher education cuts  
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Spend thrift University of California campus Chancellors put University of California Berkeley into financial crisis. Just how widespread is the budget crisis at University of California Berkeley? University of California Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau’s ($500,000 salary) eight-year fiscal track record is dismal indeed. He would like to blame the politicians, since they stopped giving him every dollar he has asked for, and the state legislators do share some responsibility for the financial crisis. But not in the sense he means.
A competent chancellor would have been on top of identifying inefficiencies in the system and then crafting a plan to fix them. Competent oversight by the Board of Regents and the legislature would have required him to provide data on problems and on what steps he was taking to solve them. Instead, every year Birgeneau would request a budget increase, the regents would agree to it, and the legislature would provide. The hard questions were avoided by all concerned, and the problems just piled up to $150 million of inefficiencies….until there was no money left.
It’s not that Birgeneau was unaware that there were, in fact, waste and inefficiencies in the system. Faculty and staff have raised issues with senior management, but when they failed to see relevant action taken, they stopped. Finally, Birgeneau ($500,000 salary) engaged some expensive ($3 million) consultants, Bain & Company, to tell him what he should have been able to find out from the bright, engaged people in his own organization.
In short, there is plenty of blame to go around. Merely cutting out inefficiencies will not have the effect desired. But you never want a serious crisis to go to waste. An opportunity now exists for the UC President, Chairman of the UC Board of Regents Gould, California Legislators to jolt Cal back to life, applying some simple oversight check-and-balance management practices. Increasing the budget is not enough; transforming senior management is necessary. The faculty, Academic Senate, Cal. Alumni, financial donors, benefactors await Cal senior management’s transformation.

UC Berkeley public reprimand, censure: NCAA places Chancellor Birgeneau’s men’s basketball program on probation
The author,who has 35 years’ consulting experience, has taught at University of California Berkeley, where he was able to observe the culture and the way senior management work.
(UC Berkeley ranking tumbles from 2nd best. The reality of UC Berkeley relative decline is clear. In 2004, for example, the London-based Times Higher Education ranked UC Berkeley the second leading research university in the world, just behind Harvard; in 2009 that ranking had tumbled to 39th place. By 2011 the ranking had not returned to 2nd best)

Posted by: Moravecglobal | March 2, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse

I realize this is a blog not real journalism, but you might want to check the accuracy of Reed's statement that Cal State has recovered from the worst of the budget cut. Campuses have fewer faculty than ever (not just tenure-track faculty, but part-time and adjunct faculty) and more students. Despite the push to "just graduate 'em", students can't get classes. And even though this current year was a recovery year (sort of and really made possible with Obama stimulus money), Gov. Brown is proposing a $500 million cut to the system for next year and more to come if his proposal to extend the life of certain current tax and fee increases fails either to even get on the June ballot (as Republican legislators are threatening) or if it is rejected (as, since this is CA and everyone wants everything for nothing, it is likely to be). Reed has been a horrific chancellor and has overseen a race to the bottom in CA higher ed. That said, I agree with his observations here about Pell grants being used to support students at public colleges and universities as a first priority and his move to make sure that anyone completing the transfer curriculum at a community college is guaranteed junior status. (Still the legislation referred to won't -- and shouldn't -- guarantee that a CC transfer will be only 60 units away from graduation if they decide to change majors -- which happens quite frequently -- and then have to go back and take all the prerequisites.

As you can tell, I really hate it when "journalists" just act as scribes to the powerful. DeVise pontificates all the time on higher ed, ya think he could ask some direct and challenging questions rather than just swallowing everything Reed says. Of course, these days journalists just assume that the rich and powerful are right, just because they are rich and powerful. If faculty members or students were right about anything, then they too would be rich (or they would be chancellors) but since they are lowly workers or students, then obviously can't be right about anything and are for some reason just seen as self-interested. Aaargh.

Posted by: lab-lady | March 3, 2011 7:42 AM | Report abuse

Aside from the criticisms of profligate University administrations, we need to consider the needs of our poor and lower middle class students trying to get a college degree. What can we say about a Republican party that has no trouble extending tax cuts to those making over $250K--let alone $1M--but can reduce Pell Grants by $845 for families making under $50000? Unconscionable at the least. Reprehensible at best.

Posted by: commonsense101 | March 3, 2011 9:20 AM | Report abuse

If Congress wants to save money on the $33 billion Pell program, Reed said, it should consider innovative ways to thin the population of grant-holders.

Why, he asks, should colleges with $5 and $10 billion endowments receive Pell money? Such schools could easily supply need-based grant aid without federal help.

"What the hell does the Ivy League need Pell for?" he said.

Good luck with that, Mr. Reed, but you know how the power structure works. What the Ivies want, the Ivies get (alas). Enjoy what crumbs are left over.

Posted by: VPaterno | March 3, 2011 5:16 PM | Report abuse

The Pell Grant program, and all need based aid, should be eliminated and replaced with a student loan program. Pay your own way. I can't afford to send my middle class family's kids to school without loans, you should get them too.

Posted by: moverbat | March 3, 2011 6:53 PM | Report abuse

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