The Future of Higher Ed: An Interview with Pat Callan

Formally, he’s Patrick M. Callan, but everyone calls him Pat, whether they are praising him for creating and sustaining the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, or taking his name in vain when “Measuring Up,” the report card on higher education that the Center publishes every two years, comes out.

Patrick M. CallanIf you watched our documentary, Declining by Degrees, you know what Pat looks like. And you may have heard him on a couple of our podcasts. Now you can read him, in this interview.

Yes, Pat has been around for a while and has served with distinction on the California Higher Education Policy Center, the California Postsecondary Education Commission, the Washington State Council for Postsecondary Education, the Montana Commission on Postsecondary Education and the Education Commission of the States.

He’s a force to be reckoned with and shows little sign of slowing down.

The Interview

Let’s begin with higher education and the recession. I know that your organization has tightened its belt, and we certainly have done that at Learning Matters.  What about higher education generally?

There has been belt tightening and much of it has been difficult and painful.  But remember, John–colleges and states can pass significant portions of their financial problems along to their consumers—students and families.

That’s certainly happening in California now. A 32% increase has sparked angry protests on many UC and Cal State campuses. Did you see this coming, and does this spell the end of California’s Master Plan for higher education, its promise of a low cost education for all able citizens?

The current round of cuts, tuition increases, and enrollment reductions are shaping up to be the most severe, particularly with the severity of economic hardship Californians are experiencing, but it’s very consistent with the way California handles budgetary problems—the default position is pass as much of the pain as possible along to students and families.

Remember the history, John. In 1960 California became the first state—in fact, the first government anywhere in the world—to commit itself to provide higher education access to every adult who was motivated and could benefit from it.  But that commitment, in what was called the Master Plan, has eroded substantially over the last three decades.  In each recession since the early 1980s, California has raised tuition substantially and turned thousands of students away from college.  For example, in the recession of the early 1990s, California reduced public higher education enrollments by 230,000 students.  In the dot-com recession early in this decade, enrollment was cut by 150,000 students.  Each time this has happened, some higher education and political leaders and many in the media have proclaimed that an unprecedented breach of the Master Plan has occurred.

I look around my office and see everyone working much harder, but I haven’t heard of college faculty teaching an extra course per semester, or anything like that.  Am I missing something?

There have been increases in faculty teaching, due primarily to larger classes.  But there’s been little in the way of systematic efforts to improve productivity in ways that don’t undermine educational quality and are on a scale large enough to have an impact on access and affordability.  Continue reading