Strategic Challenges Facing the Institution
Despite the considerable advantages enjoyed by the CSU, it clearly faces a number of internal and external challenges that will require attention in the years ahead. Many of these can be addressed through creative initiative within the institution; others will require collaborative action at the state and national policy levels.
While the CSU has done much to increase student access and degree attainment, particularly among low-income students, it cannot be content with maintaining current levels of progress. Closing achievement gaps at every level of the educational pipeline will require each university to accept greater responsibility for setting high expectations for student success. This will require better use of data to diagnose and confront the causes for student failure. It will require more proactive advising, more aggressive outreach to students in academic trouble, and more attention to student financial aid that will help students to cut back on work so as to be able to focus on their education as their primary priority.
Engagement with P-12 Systems and Community Colleges
The need for strong collaboration between the CSU, the community colleges, and P-12 systems is evident throughout the state. The deficiencies and gaps in achievement facing the state can not be overcome through ad hoc or unilateral action by any one of these sectors. There have been efforts to build collaborations in some communities, and the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction has established a statewide P-16 council, but these efforts need to be made enduring, through a statewide network supporting regional structures that are appropriately differentiated to meet the needs of diverse communities. Building this infrastructure and using it strategically to leverage change in performance cannot be accomplished by relying on volunteers who do this work as an add-on to other areas that are their primary responsibilities; it will require the dedication of resources.
Faculty, Staff, and Administrative Investment
The CSU’s faculty and staff are its most important strategic assets—but they are assets that require attention because of the combination of generational turnover, gaps in compensation levels, and the need for professional development and support to keep pace with changes in student learning, technology, and scholarship.
The pattern across American higher education and within the CSU in the last decade has been to shift reliance for instruction onto non-tenure-track faculty. In the CSU, such faculty have represented more than half of the teaching force since 1999. The current proportion is approximately two-thirds of the total faculty.13 This is a worrisome situation because of the potential for erosion of quality and diminishing of intellectual independence that is associated with tenure. The CSU has made it a priority to reduce compensation gaps for faculty and at the same time to increase the proportion of positions held by tenured and tenure-track faculty, but budget challenges have impeded progress. There is also a continuing need to increase the diversity of the CSU faculty to match more nearly the diversity of the student body.
It will be crucial to ensure that student learning achievement is the most important consideration in determining modes of instruction in the CSU. Faculty, whatever their terms of employment, will need to be recruited with attention to their willingness to experiment with new modes of teaching and learning, as well as their disciplinary training and achievements. Recruiting new faculty is problematic in some areas because demand far exceeds supply. Effective recruiting in such areas necessitates higher salaries, robust start-up packages, and support for research, scholarship, and creative activity. New faculty expect not only the opportunity to excel in their teaching, but also to be supported in their scholarly and creative work. The growth anticipated in postbaccalaureate educational programs of all types will also drive the need for additional investments in faculty professional development, including investments in research, scholarship, and creative activity.
Providing increased funding for faculty and staff compensation and ensuring appropriate resources for their professional development will require additional resources. This is a continuing priority from Cornerstones, although one where the least progress has been made because of budget constraints.
Improving access and service to students and communities also will require greater reliance on professional staff, who will play a lead role in the critical work ahead. Finally, a new generation of strong and effective leaders must be cultivated within the institution, with the values and habits of work to continue to lead and innovate in the years ahead.
It is also important for the system and the individual universities to develop strategies to promote adaptations in pedagogy to improve student learning. Technology is one vehicle for accomplishing this goal; better use of experimental models within the system to test the efficacy of new techniques is another. Continuous investment in professional development will be necessary to enable faculty to improve their knowledge base for teaching and research. Reared in a digital age, many of today’s students have an approach to learning that differs dramatically from norms of even 10 years ago. To be successful in teaching and mentoring these students, CSU faculty and staff increasingly need to adapt teaching strategies to students’ changed and alternate learning styles.
Providing for strong student learning also requires augmenting traditional classroom-based instruction with active learning opportunities such as internships, faculty-staff research projects, and learning communities, both face-to-face and online. This will require inventiveness and pedagogical expertise.
Ensuring adequacy of funding to maintain quality, improve access, and increase degree attainment will be a major challenge to the institution. The CSU cannot commit to a false promise of being able to maintain quality and to increase access and degree attainment without adequate resources. The institution is already efficient and cost-effective, and will continue to work to become even more so. But increasing access and degree attainment will require additional unrestricted funds, which means a combination of state general funds and student fees. Over-reliance on student fees will threaten access for those with limited economic means, as well as the institution’s capacity to increase educational attainment among low-income groups. Under current CSU Trustee policy, each university has a goal to find a specific percentage of its resources from extramural sources. These specific institution-level goals have been met or even exceeded by some universities, but not yet been met by others. All of the CSU universities will continue to find appropriate ways to increase the flow of external resources, however, private revenues are frequently restricted as to use, and so cannot substitute for state general fund support to sustain the core academic program.
Its teaching and service mission makes privatization, such as that which has been practiced in other university settings, an untenable path for the CSU. The demographic changes already in view and the reality that the majority of new undergraduates will be coming from low-income families requires that the CSU maintain its public identity to serve state needs, particularly at the undergraduate level. At the same time, more can and should be done to increase and diversify revenue sources for graduate education, research, and transfer of research outcomes to new businesses and technologies, as well as to increase support to grow international enrollments in the CSU.
The challenge of resource scarcity will also likely force greater attention to establishing criteria for distributing resources among the CSU universities, and to the balance between funding equity as a goal vis-à-vis more differentiated strategies for meeting priorities. Inevitably, there will be unevenness in demand among universities, and within them among different disciplines. Most of the statewide enrollment growth will occur in a minority of the CSU universities in the southern part of the state and in the Central Valley.
Growing imbalances in demand among program areas will also raise questions about program mix and curriculum. If patterns within the CSU mirror national trends, the next two decades will likely see a continuation of relative decline in enrollments in the humanities, with proportionately greatest growth in business and engineering. These programs are more expensive to offer, particularly at the upper-division and graduate levels. The unevenness in demand will create issues about program mix and ways that campuses can maintain balance in program offerings, while at the same time they are increasing investments in areas responsive to emerging state and national priorities. Many such decisions are appropriately left to individual universities, based on their own priorities and on local and regional circumstances. Some, however, may require system-level efforts to encourage consolidation and sharing of programs across universities, including via technology-assisted instruction.
State Policy Vision
Public policy for postsecondary education has been caught in a kind of gridlock for the last 10 years. This is not a problem unique to California. Nationally, there is a disconnect between growing awareness of the need for a public agenda for higher education, and a dominant model that promotes privatization and competition as the best way to address social problems. But California faces a special set of challenges, to some extent because of the continuing influence of the Master Plan that was so successful for so long. Stymied by chronic funding problems, and captured by the belief that the Master Plan continues to be basically adequate to address present and future needs, the state lacks consensus about what its agenda should be, much less a strategic plan to accomplish it.
13 Cited figures are “head count,” and not “full time-equivalent” faculty. In terms of full-time equivalent, non-tenure/tenure track faculty represent about one-third of CSU faculty.