Disruption of Higher Education
William G. Tierney Analyzes California’s Position
The following is a transcript of a talk at the Feb. 22 CSUF President's Symposium, “Appraising the Future, Understanding Costs: Envisioning the New Normal in Higher Education,” given by William G. Tierney, USC's director for higher education policy.
Tierney: I’m going to speak about it the disruptive impact of technology a different way and I think I'm also going to disagree with our previous speaker.
Really what I am concerned about is access in equity. I am concerned about how do we get more low income youth into post secondary education. One of the things that we have in my center is we work with 10 low income schools, some of them drop out factories, and try to help kids apply to four year institutions.
Now, the counselor to student ratio in California schools is about 800 students to one college counselor. Nationally, it's about 400. The numbers that it should be is about 300 and I don't know about you but I can remember about the middle/upper class school that I went to and sophomore year, my mom and dad were talking to Mr. Wildman about where, not if, where I was going to college. I don't see that changing. It should but I don't see it changing.
Given that, a few years ago I spoke with our then provost, now president, and he gave me some money and I said I want to create a game. I don't know anything about technology, thank God you're here, but we have a game innovation lab in the School of Cinema at USC and the provost said, "Bill, you don't know anything about technology. I will give you some money but you have to work with the game innovation lab." I'm the content, they're the platform.
Next month, we will have a game that will go on Facebook that's free to everybody, that will help kids in high school apply to college. Why do I tell you that? Because in the last four years, I have raised money from the Gates Foundation, the Lumina Foundation, other foundations, but that's part of my work. I've also talked to venture capitalists. 10 years ago, I didn't even know what that meant and it is certainly true when they talk to me they're often like this.
"Well, Professor, I don't think so." But I see the world changing significantly. When I was an undergraduate I went to Tufts University. I majored in English. It was the time in the '70s when there were no requirements. I took lots of language classes. The question of what is education? When I was a kid, it was loving reading. We can argue about that but in this day and age can we also not agree that for the vast majority of students, at the baseline, it has to deal with the jobs in the economy.
There are other things, but it has to deal with jobs. I'm doing a study right now looking at cosmetology and if you were thinking of a second profession, cosmetology is a growth industry. That's not always true. Here is one other fact and that is I'm in a school of education at USC and we have created an online MAT, Masters of
Arts and Teaching. We're the content and there's a for profit company, not a college or university, a company, and they're the provider.
When the Dean talked to me about this, I said there's not a snowball's chance in hell that this is going to work. Why? Think about it. There's a halo effect, I assume, that someone will come to USC to get a Masters of Art and Teaching if you're going to work in southern California. It's possible. That's what a lot of the students that come for our seats do. Why would someone in Georgia pay $40,000 for an online MAT? They could just go to Georgia State, the University of Georgia.
There is no halo effect in Georgia. Well, I have an MAT from USC. Well, big deal. Shows what I know. We have 2,000 students in 44 states and a couple of countries. I think, in terms of what Jeff was speaking about, some things are changing but that's different than disruption. Let me get through what I think of there. What is the situation? My graduate students put this together for me. Here's how I see the situation.
I agree with President Obama. I agree that we need more students participating in the post secondary sector. Let's recognize that when we are speaking about more students participating in the post secondary sector it's not the kids who are coming from Beverly Hills 90210. It's the schools that I'm working in right now where the participation rates are extremely low and the partents are working adults. Now, if that is true, this is what we've got right now.
What that means to me is that we need roughly 100,000 students a year more, every year for the next decade in California. Not nationally, in California. How are we going to do that? I don't know. What I did here was I looked on the left hand, and again you can look at these later at your leisure, but what I did was say OK, here's the numbers that exist. If we keep things the same in 2020 to meet Obama's goal, and again think how critical it is, if you agree with the President and many studies that we need to increase post secondary participation, think how critical it is that California meets its goal.
I have nothing against Vermont but if Vermont doesn't meet its goal it's Vermont. But if California doesn't, we've got a problem. How are we going to put all these new students in our different institutions? Again, I don't know if this was mentioned this morning but look in the LA Times, if we're still reading the paper, look at the problems the community college system have with its latest budget cuts.
Think about what does that mean in terms of the ability of students in the UC or the CSU taking community college classes this summer and it means basically that that will not happen. How are we going to do this? Now, I do want to say that there are two arguments that will disagree with me and it's how different the world is. That's either Marx or Capitalism. There are two arguments that say actually we don't need more people participating in post secondary education.
In this country, the Marxist argument is less significant. It's more that there's a credentialing going on and all we're doing is making more people jump through hoops but it's not necessary. That's a bastardized version but that's a Marxist version. The argument that I think will become much more compelling, not because it's right but because the conservatives are so good at making arguments, is that we really don't need more people participating in the post secondary sector.
Really what we've got is enough now. You'll see this from the economist Richard Vader, you'll see it from the American Enterprise Institute. There's a lot of different arguments right now that are making that case. They'll talk about Dominos pizza guys and they've got Bachelors degree and they're delivering pizzas. In Los Angeles, every waiter, right, has a Bachelors degree or he or she wants to be the next Brad Pitt.
That argument needs to be unpacked because if we agree with that argument, well, we really don't need more people participating. Who are we talking about with that? Are we saying OK, we're going to have from the upper class, there'll be 10 percent less in the upper class participating and there'll be 10 percent less in the middle class participating and the lower class? Or really will it come that those are the new entrants, those who are the poorest of the poor?
We say, "Well, they don't really need," and I'm not saying a Bachelors degree, I'm saying some form of post secondary education. These are all different studies from different think tanks that basically make that point, that we need more people in the post secondary sector. Now, the fastest growing sector that we see right now is the for‑profit sector. This is true in the country and in California. No one would have guessed a decade ago that they would be 12 percent of the college going population.
I'm not saying it should be, but in terms of disruptive technology and disruptive thinking. This is not thinking outside the box. It's a new box. I actually think the Governor does not have any plan whatsoever about California. Budget cutting is not a plan. What do we, as a citizenry, and what does the Governor think is an adequate level of participation in the for‑profit sector?
Is it zero? Should we drive them out of business? Is it 30 percent? 40? 50? I think we have to make a decision about that, a determination. My own sense is I know the problems of for‑profits. I know the schlock that exists. I do not think we can make the capacity levels that we need without their ethical participation.
In Sacramento, we have an office in the Consumer Affairs that's regulating them with two people. Come on. Do you really think they're regulating all these for‑profit institutions in California with two people? I don't think we can simply say they should go out of business, all of them, because I don't think we can get where we need to go without them. What are the problems? We've talked a lot about money, the lack of money, and this is not going to go away. We can also say that there are secondary school problems.
Let me also give my own take on history and the future. The history of the 20th century is that there was a firewall between K thru 12 and higher education in this country. The history of post secondary education in the 20th century is that institutions tried to be more alike than different. We all wanted to be Harvard so we went from normal schools to teachers college to universities. We all wanted to offer Masters degrees, Doctoral degrees.
I think in the 21st century, we're going to see something extremely different. What we're going to see in the 21st century is a much closer relationship between K thru 12 and higher education and we're going to see sector and institutional differentiation. I think with the previous speaker, I think that's overblown in terms of the elites. We're talking about 30 institutions.
The real risks in the private sector are not so much the elites, it's the ones that are one or two ranks below and they're hanging on. Because if they lose 50 students, they can't survive. So, why are you going to send your child to St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico ‑‑ which I know something about ‑‑ when it could be cheaper to send your son or daughter to the University of New Mexico, or the University of California, or what have you. The prediction at St. John's for next year is that they are going to have 50 less students, so the President told everyone in the fall that every single employee including the President will take a pay cut for next September.
Now, I appreciate there are times when we need to take pay cuts or we need to do things like that, but ultimately, you starve yourself to death if you are so tuition‑driven. So, the real problem to me is not the Harvards, Stanfords, USCs of the world. It's those middle‑tier institutions which are trying to charge a higher tuition rate but can't survive.
Now, with our high schools, we have high schools that are dropout factories. Kids who come in, in the 9th grade, and 40 percent or more will drop out. If we want to do what I'm saying, what the President is saying, we've got to create greater college‑going capacity in these types of institutions. We have to have students who are college ready, and we have to have higher college‑going rates.
But to me, I think that too often those of us in higher education take what I think of as a Pontius Pilate approach to things. And we say, "Whew, those schools, boy are they bad. I wish you would send me a better product." I think that's facetious thinking. I think we need to work hand in glove with the schools.
And believe me, I know the problems of working with LAUSD because I've had these 10 schools that I've been working with for over a decade now. People come and go. It's a very confusing atmosphere. I understand the writing problems that these kids have. I think that the vast majority of these kids want to succeed, but they don't know how to. We have to be involved in ways that we haven't been recently.
Now, what are some postsecondary problems that we've got in terms of completion rates? Transfer is a big issue. Think of last year, what happened. There was a great ballyhoo that we created a transfer law, legislation in Sacramento between the community colleges and the CSU. Why was that? Why did we not do it with every four‑year institution in the state? What's that about?
The UC didn't want to get involved with that, and the privates are not involved, and we certainly don't want to have the for‑profits involved in this. But does that help the students in terms of creating some type of synthetic transfer process? Because we've got to speed up and we've got to make things more effective and efficient.
The application processes, especially to the UC and the privates are confusing. First‑generation students don't know how to apply. I often say, you've got to remember when you're talking about low‑income first‑generation youth, first in your head has to be, these are 18‑year‑olds. Any of you who have 18‑year‑olds know what I'm talking about. So, they will do what they think they'll do, but they lead busy lives. They think they do. So, we need to orchestrate it in a way that's effective and efficient.
The temporal structure, I think, has to change, and it has to change significantly. Why is it that learning takes place over four years' time? Can't there be other ways of doing that? I think that one of the things that has struck me at USC is that, the most powerful person at the university? The registrar. Because I think in my class, you know what, really what should happen this week is we should have... My PhD class that I'm teaching, I think I should teach them every day at 9:00 for one hour just this week, because this lesson is really intense. And next week I think we'll go for one full day.
I think we could all make a rationale for that, but if we try that, the registrar would go, "Are you crazy? Professor Smith's class comes into your class at 9:00. There's no...We don't have the room for that." But we're at a point because of disruptive technology that is going to be possible. I would encourage us to resist saying, "Oh, that's bad." Just the way the newspaper industry has changed, so will we. The question is, are we going to be active participants in this, or not?
Course sequencing and duplication is a problem to me. Graduation requirements, in terms of credit hours, right? Really what we're doing is, we're using credit hours and me as Professor Tierney as the proxy for learning. We're assuming that at the end of the semester, I'll be able to say, "This is a good student," or not. But isn't there another way of doing that that assures you rather than basically me saying, trust me?
The funding of institutions rather than students is an issue. And then, who helps solve the problem? Again, I am troubled that private institutions can receive state funds via Cal Grants with no attendant obligation to be involved in things like schools. That we think, well, that's the job of the CSU or the UC, the community colleges. I think that's got to change.
If we, the state, are going to give you, private institutions, income, I don't mean it as recruiting tools. I mean it in terms of that there needs to be a closer relationship between K through 12 and higher education for all of us.
Now, here's what I want to talk about in terms of disruptive solutions, just so that we can be clear. In the jargon, we've got two phrases. Sustainable technology and disruptive technology. Telegraph to telephone is one example. I had no idea until I looked in this how rapidly telephones took over and the telegraph went away.
But I do know about this. I am old enough to remember a manual typewriter. Not that old, but sort of. Now, the way disruptive technology works, think back to those of you who typed your dissertations on a Smith‑Corona and an Olivetti. Right? For those who used the manual typewriter, hallelujah, an electric typewriter! It's fast.
And remember, we first that white stuff, right? Then we got rid of the white stuff and we got these little pieces of paper. Wow, right? We were happy. And that's sustainable technology. The consumer gets an improvement on a product, and we are happy.
But none of us were saying with regard to sustainable technology with the electric typewriter, "Boy, I wish somebody invented a computer." Therefore, Smith‑Corona and Olivetti didn't deal with them. What you got is you got a clunky technology that a bunch of guys build in a garage. It's expensive, geeks like it, and it's like, "I'll never use that." The interesting point about disruptive technology that gets made is that it happens so quickly. And that happening results in Smith‑Corona and Olivetti no longer being around.
So, the question to me is, is that what we're talking about with regard to higher education right now? Are we seeing some type of disruptive moment? And, again, I want to point out, I am not celebrating this. I'm not saying it's great. But as an analyst, I'm trying to come to grips with what's going on. The problem or the issue, with regard to disruptive technology and higher education is that the analogy is not precise.
We're talking about an online technology and we're talking about for‑profit institutions, and in the past you're more talking like things. Telegraph to typewriter, those sorts of issues.
But if you look at it, most often the disruptive technology does not take place in standard, traditional institutions. It doesn't take place because the consumer, the people that we are serving aren't asking for it. We're trying to meet the needs of the consumer. And, those of us who work in traditional institutions don't want it. So, you have to go outside and create a new box, it's not thinking of outside the box. So here we go.
So, where are we headed, and what will happen? Now, I think, talk about a ridiculous statement. For me to stand up here and say, where are we headed, as if you're going to write this down, and I'll come back in 10 years. But I honestly don't think we can say that the world is going to stay the same, the higher ed world is going to stay the same. I don't think we're going to see just a few little transformations along the way.
So, if you reject these, then what do we do? I appreciate the importance of lobbying the government, especially the state government. If there is a tax proposal put forward this fall, I will vote for it. But I don't think that solves the issues that face us if we are dealing with capacity. And recognize, one of the neat things about this country is that we have always been ahead of the educational curve.
From Horace Mann in the beginning of the 19th Century when we were not a rich country, saying, "I think all children should go to school." From Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War creating land grant institutions. From the dawn of the 20th Century, when states seeking admittance into the Union had to have compulsory education. Things like the G.I. Bill remind us that we have always talked about the need for more education for our citizenry as a way up and a way out.
If we believe that, what are we going to do? I think learning will be speeded up. One thing we know is that if you don't take classes in the summer, you're going to go through the phrases "a summer slump."
So, you and I are running, and we run from September until June. We stop, June comes. you go off to the beach, and I continue running. Who's going to be a better runner in September? But when we look at those students, the students that we most need to increase in terms of participation rates, those students go through not just a summer slump, but they also go through a slump dealing with the senior year.
I can see the Hollywood sign from my house, so forgive me. At the beginning of the film industry, Charlie Chaplin did everything. He was the writer, producer, director, and star of his films. That's us. I'm certainly the star, but I am the writer, director, and producer of my classes. I just don't see that holding. I think if I didn't have graduate students, I would still be handwriting stuff out. Thank God for graduate students because I am just a Luddite with technology.
I really think that we're going to see differentiation. What are you best at as a faculty member? I'm not saying technology is going to take over every single class in all of our courses tomorrow. But I do know that technology could improve my teaching but I don't know how to do it. I need somebody else to do that. We're going to see, I think, differentiation in our roles in ways that we hadn't seen in the past.
I fully acknowledge there are issues with that, issues in terms of technology transfer and intellectual property we will need to work out. What drives me is trying to increase participation rates of low income youths nationally. If I want to do that, I've got to talk in different ways to different groups of people. I still am an academic, I still write a lot. I have two books coming with Harvard Press and Johns Hopkins.
Also, in terms of dealing with different kinds of group and social media, I do absolutely agree that we don't want to be defensive but I think we need to be offensive, and I don't mean that in an obnoxious way. Right now, I work with someone at USC to write opeds for CNN, LA Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post.
Again, the comments you get on these things it's horrible. Boy. But I have to be involved. I want us to raise the public dialogue about the future of higher education and the importance of it in terms of reducing poverty. I really think that faculty will no longer be a proxy for learning. I think we will have things that are tied to outcomes. I think that we can absolutely argue about what critical thinking means.
This whole argument about gainful employment is not going away. Are we providing the skills necessary for people to take positions in the economy? In California, we have a critical need for students in science, technology, engineering, and math.
I think college needs to start sooner. For those of you who have seniors you know that second semester of senior year the only thing that's going on is who you're going to take to the prom and not much else. If you look in the low income schools, what happens after November one when applications are due? Not too much.
I have a high school writing program as well because I want to get kids ready for college and they have to do three things. They have to get a counselor's letter of reference. They have to say that they're going to a four-year institution, and these are four-year institutions all over America. It could be Cal State Fullerton, it could be Dartmouth, it could be UCLA. This really has nothing to do with me trying to recruit for USC.
The third thing they need to do is they need to give me one five-page paper they have written in four years. Can't do it because they don't write when they're in high school. Again, this is like when I talk to people and I say, "If you want to write you should write." Well, if it's not happening we need to make it happen so how can we do that and how can we use technology to make it happen? How can we have a closer alliance with K thru 12?
It's strange to me. If you came up to at the end here and said to me, "My son is in 10th grade," and I said, "Oh, how's it going?" He said, "Pretty well but he's really nervous. He's applying to 11th." We would go what's that about? Unless you're going to some totally different school, what's that about? Why are we having students who are qualified apply to 13th grade?
I never thought about it. Upper middle class family, two older brothers went to college. It's natural. For students who aren't first generation low income kids, they don't know what it's about. Somebody said to me once, I work with a student as well, and a student said to me once I said, "Where do you want to go?" and she said,
"I've thought about it and I've narrowed it down to three places.
LA Trade Tech, Cal State LA, or Berkeley." Really? OK. Why is that? She said, "Well, my teacher went to Berkeley and he said it's a good school and I'm really into soccer. I looked at Berkeley and they've got a soccer team. Cal State LA, my brother goes to and they've got a soccer team and so does LA Trade Tech." That student was making a very rational decision but really what we need to do is have a closer synthesis between 11th, 12th, 13th grade rather than this divide.
Transfers have to be synthetic and I really do think that blended learning is the thing of the future. It's hard. I love teaching my classes. I've got a traditional PhD class in the fall, extremely bright students, hard working, a third of them are students of color. We meet, talk big ideas, read lots of things, I have a reader. I just think in the future that's going away for all of us.
Those guys are the ones who are telling me. Just the way 15 years ago, as graduate student, my handwriting is horrible so I always would type out lots and lots and lots of comments. I'm sure all of you do now. I never used paper. A graduate student 15 years ago said "There's this thing called attachments and you can embed comments." I said, "I don't want to do that." He said, "You don't want to be out of it."
I didn't want to be out of it and it's actually improved my comments. Here's some things where I see 5, 10, 20 years from now. Students begin college in January of their senior year. How do we fund that? We have to create a new funding model to make it happen. How do we ensure that these sorts of things are happening?
Or are we going to limit ourselves to the status quo? Let's hold on until the economy gets better and then funding levels will return.
That's one possibility. I don't think that's going to happen. If we look at organizational theory what we see is the best way to make things happen is not by sanction. If you don't do this, this is going to happen. It's by incentive. You don't have to do it but if you do this, this will happen. Is it possible that we can provide different incentives that make this happen?
The transfer rates from two-year institutions to four-year institutions nationally is abysmal. Most recently, my friends and colleagues at UCLA last week came out with reports talking about the abysmal transfer rates, especially for low income first generation students of color. Part of the reason is they've got so many differentiating functions going on.
Let's clarify what's what. One of the reasons that good for‑profits work well is that they're very clear about what they do. When I've talked to the guy who runs the cosmetology school that I'm looking at that's what they do. They do cosmetology. They don't do other things. If we were to ask him what is the point of education he would say, "For my students, it's to get them a successful job in cosmetology."
I think, again, that may not be the same statement that you at Cal State Fullerton would say but as citizens, we want to be concerned about this. I think that one of the problems right now in California is that, again, we are cutting budgets but we are not talking about the research capacity of the state. I am a researcher. I tend to think that research is important, but do we need every UC research university that we've got now? UC Merced cost $500 million and it took about 20 years from the first day that it was discussed until it opened. It's got about 5,000 students.
When I said this a couple months ago and there were some legislators and folks from UC they said, "Yeah, but the economic development in Merced was incredibly important." OK, but that's a different issue. If you're talking about capacity constraints in the state, would any of us really say well really what we should do is we should spend another $500 million over the next 20 years so that we can open a campus with 5,000 students? I don't think so.
They're half done. They want another 500 million. Think of those numbers that I gave to you at the start. That's the challenge for me. I think that distribution requirements, the smear of classes that I had that I loved when I was an undergraduate is going to go away. I think things are going to be much more stripped down and confined and we're going to move forward so that a student knows what he or she is doing in a finite period of time.
Before I was at USC,I used to teach at Penn State. Penn State created an online campus. Not the most successful initiative. This was about 10 years ago. One of the interesting things that happened is they tried to make a stark differentiation. If you're in state college, a traditional student, you're taking seat classes so you can't register for the online classes and the kids who were taking the seat classes said, "Why?" If I'm getting A's in the seat class why can't I take an online class and if I get an A in that what's the deal here?
Students are different from us. They're thinking in a much faster way. Look at how social media functions right now. I just see this overtaking us if we don't deal with it. About a year or two ago I wrote an op‑ed for the LA Times and I said there needed to be a new master plan. I actually think the master plan is dead. I don't think it makes sense to tinker around the edges with it.
There's no coordination in this state. UC does what they want to do, USC does what they want to do. I really think we need a new compact that includes all five sectors—the UC, the CSU, the community colleges, the private non‑profits, and the private for‑profits. Again, I understand the concern about the for‑profits. But if you agree with the gist here, I don't think we can simply wait for the storm to abate.
We certainly cannot let the for‑profits just run around doing whatever they want. But I don't think we can succeed without them. If we can regulate them and bring them to the table, I think that's all to the good. It's good for them and it's good for us. We have something to learn from them. Not everything but something. They have something to learn from us as well.
I spoke at a for‑profit conference, I don't know, a couple months ago. This guy came up to me at the break and he said, "We're learning at our institution that if you engage students out of class that's really a good thing." I was like, "Really? Well, you know, there's a literature of about 50 years on that. Really?" OK. So, we need to deal with it.
I just don't think this. I don't think that if we get more revenue, if this tax increase comes next fall, I don't think that will solve our problems. It may reduce the anxiety that we face but in terms of increasing capacity rates, I don't see it happening. I also don't see us building 13 new campuses, which is what I estimate we'd need to do if we go back to that initial slide and we're acting in a normal way. I just don't see it. What do we do?
Let me end with something that I would recommend if it's still open and that is Sunday night in Culver City my partner and I saw "Raisin in the Sun." Excellent play. Lorraine Hansberry in the 1950s wrote this play. She was the first African American woman to ever have a play of hers staged on Broadway. Quite remarkable. It deals with racism and it deals with poverty and at the end of act one the father, Walter, thinks he's going to get some money and he talks to his seven‑year‑old son Travis.
He's talking about what's going to happen 10 years from now when you're 17. He says, "I'll pull the car up in the driveway, just a plain black Chrysler. I think with white walls. No, black tires. More elegant. Rich people don't have to be flashy. Though I'll have to get something a little more flashy for your mother. Maybe a Cadillac convertible to do her shopping with."
"I'll go inside the house and your mom will come downstairs and meet me at the door and we'll kiss each other and she'll take my arm and we'll go up to your room to see you sitting on the floor with the catalogs of all the great universities in the country. No, all the great universities in the world. I'll say, 'All right, son. It's your 17th birthday. What is it you've decided? Just tell me you want to go to school and you'll go. Just tell me what you want to be and you'll be it. Whatever you want, yes siree.'"
Now, he doesn't get the money but it's a happy ending or a significant ending. That's something that has been in this country for at least half a century but really all over. We've always met problems, not by saying we're going to hunker down but we're going to move forward. The question to me is how do we move forward deliberately, determinedly, and meet the problems that face us? Right now, I don't think we're doing that.
Let me stop here. Let's have some questions, disagreements. My graduate students always disagree with me so have at it.
Audience question: Thank you for your stimulating lecture or discussion. The question I have is that in talking with legislators and students, you talked about an integrated system with everybody working together. But in justifying 1440 and some of the other transfer legislation, it seems like what legislators and the public want is for a student to start anywhere and decide that they want to go somewhere else and be able to pick up right where they left off. They want all the parts to be interchangeable. Does that mean that all of higher education is the same? Is that how you see? You didn't talk about being completely interchangeable parts, which is what it seems like the students and the legislators want to see happen.
Tierney: National University is a private non‑profit institution and it has campuses up and down the state. It's an interesting model to look at. To answer your question with an alternative example, the problem National has it that they want to grow. Again, they are a private, non‑profit institution. They have to create agreement with every single community college where they are. They run up and down the state from the north down to San Diego. That's the problem we need to solve. Is it an issue that there's some student who takes a community college class at LA Trade Tech, comes here for a semester, and then moves to San Francisco? Absolutely. But we can solve that. First, we have to recognize, however, that rather than creating barriers to institutions the transfer is much more synthetic.
I did a study last year. When I talked with private institutions like National. Because there is no dialogue and there is a disincentive to create transfer policies, these institutions would say to me that it takes the student at least a semester longer to graduate. They're not trying to grab money. That's the faculty and administration not talking to the faculty and administration at the community college. The University of San Diego is a good example.
They said if we could have a quicker flow-through model, students will get through. In another life, I have spent a lot of time looking at Native American students. Of all of our students in the system, those who are most mobile are Native American students. They start out on the reservation, they go to the local city, they move back to the reservation, they may go back to Los Angeles. It's a patchwork quilt. Those, to me, are anomalies. Those are problems that don't say we can't do it, we have to figure out how to make it happen.
Audience question: I see it inevitable that technology will be married to higher education and that would mean information would be readily accessible and grading structures changed. I guess that might transform the traditional role Have you made the assessment on how it changes?
Tierney: I think it's going to change dramatically. It is true, based on the research, that all institutions except community colleges reward faculty for doing research rather than teaching. When we gave raises in some systems, it's not that the faculty member at Fullerton would write or publish as much as somebody at UCLA or USC. But if you look at the faculty member in office A and the faculty member in office B, the reward structure is geared towards research rather than teaching. In talks other than this, I often will say, and my graduate students are most surprised at this, that faculty are not stupid. We respond to incentives. We are in charge of the tenure system, for those of us that are tenured. There's nothing saying that we can't change the reward structure and reward people for X rather than Y. Again, I really take seriously the thought that in the 20th century, the way we did things was we all tried to reward things the way Harvard rewards things because we want to be Harvard. I think that's a mistaken idea.
Another part of me is I'm a member of the UP. I've been in the governance committee. I'm very involved in campus governance at USC. I take the idea of tenure and academic freedom very seriously. I do not think we should get rid of the tenure system but I also don't think that it's written in stone that we cannot change how we define what we do and how we reward what we do.
Audience question: You have painted a fascinating future for a number of different changes. I'm wondering what scenario you have in mind and how these changes are actually going to take place, knowing what you know about how difficult it is to make a change in higher education and in the political decision making, especially in California. I wish all of these things would happen magically but they won't. What is your scenario for how at least some of these things could be accomplished?
Tierney: I know. I wish I had an answer. I think the sludge in the system, the glue in the system right now, means we cannot look to Sacramento, in my own mind. We cannot look to Sacramento for the solution. The solution, however, really lies with us. Here's my concern. My concern is that in virtually all systems right now we've got boards, administration, and faculty who are angry at one another. You guys did this or you guys are getting this money and we're not, all these things. I understand that. If the governor came out this afternoon and said, "Hallelujah. I found the money. End of budget crisis." I think the boards, the administration, and the faculty would go, "Hallelujah," and we would go back to the norm. Given the charts that I've got at the front there and my concern about increasing access and increasing participation rates, that won't do it.
That means that I think ideas like this, like having a group of faculty, administrators, others, talking about these things in a deliberative way is the way forward. I like to be an optimist but especially, in California right now, I see very cloudy skies. Earlier this year, I was in Utah. Utah's not Arizona but Utah, however, has put forward a plan for participation rates. The meeting they had was with K thru 12 and higher education and it was how do we make these processes work.
The good news/bad news was that the conference happened was at the instigation of the governor in a Republican state but it was with the active participation of all these different parties. This is also a state, by the way, if you've been tracking things that had a bill in the legislature to eliminate tenure. If that had happened, everything would have stopped and the bill would have gotten pulled.
There are things happening in some states. What's amazing to me is how fast some things can change when a thoughtful Governor in Ohio goes away and a new governor comes in and says, "I don't want to do what they had."
March 8, 2012