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