The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Legislative Analyst’s Office proposes oversight of higher education

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A commission to oversee higher education in California may be created after the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) reported on Jan. 6 that CSU and public universities are making ill-advised decisions, subjecting students to frustrating enrollment processes and using state resources for self-interests.

No oversight commission currently exists since Governor Jerry Brown vetoed approximately $2 million worth of funding to the California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) in the fall. The CPEC was responsible for regulating program and budgetary requests, along with housing statistical data regarding student and faculty trends.

Judy Heiman, LAO administrator who helped prepare the report, said higher education needs a system of checks and balances in the new year.

“There is no organization or process,” Heiman said. “Universities could tip in the direction of using state resources to benefit the university in ways that are not necessarily in the state’s or public best interests.”

The LAO report advised each institution to assemble an interim commission consisting of faculty and legislative representatives until an overall commission with revised goals is formed.

“I think these strategic commissions are pretty worthless,” said Shirley Svorny, CSUN professor of economics. “CSUN needs autonomy in order to run smoothly and effectively fix problems important to CSUN. We don’t need to be babysat and we don’t need another committee standing in our administration’s way.”

Svorny said the state does not have the budget to set up a new commission, nor would the commission have the personel to tackle the unique set of problems relating to each campus. According to California Watch, the previous commission had a paid staff of 20 and an annual budget of $1.9 million.

“We recognize the difficulty of creating a new public organization in the current fiscal environment,” the LAO report stated.

The LAO declined to comment on the cost of a new commission, but the report suggested the state limit other funding commitments to produce the necessary revenue.

The report also urged institutions to monitor data once recorded by the CPEC to set fiscal priorities. Heiman said universities tend to set impractical goals with lofty price tags.

“Understandably, campuses will always want more, newer, or better facilities,” Heiman said. “To the extent that these facilities are a state cost. The state needs to prioritize its investments across all of higher education.”

Heiman said the LAO also suggests CSUs limit their research and doctoral programs. Though these programs are prestigious and offer extended curriculum, they tend to increase the costs of undergraduate education and make faculty less available for undergraduate instruction and advising, she said.

Jody Dunlap, CSUN professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, said doctorate programs, like the one she advises in the education department, attract students to CSUs.

CSUN, in particular, has managed itself well and her department has experienced advancement despite trying times, she said.

“With the financial situation there have been cutbacks all across the board, but the university is in good shape,” Dunlap said. “CSUN has maintained to look into the best interests of faculty and students and I have complete confidence in the direction our new interim president will take us.”

The LAO report said lack of oversight could also potentially affect students in terms of enrollment, transfers and completion of degrees.

Heiman said without effective oversight of these processes, many students may have a difficult time transferring credits and some may even need to repeat courses at CSUs they already took at community colleges.

The modified commission will not be an easy task, the LAO report said. The process will involve difficult trade-offs among competing interests and institutions will need to work closely with policymakers to promote objectives beneficial to both students and the state.

The report said a new commission should not be seen as a setback, but as an “opportunity for stakeholders and the public to provide input.”

As mentioned in the report, the LAO hopes legislators take these recommendations under consideration and form a new commission following a shift of funds and new regulation in November.

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