Commision calls for state university overhaul

    The state’s public higher education system should undergo a major reorganization, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s California Performance Review panel has suggested, offering a list of 33 recommendations in an August report.

    Members of the panel met under a mandate from the governor to examine many aspects of the state and “blow up the boxes” to make recommendations on how to increase efficiency while reducing costs.

    “We cannot afford waste and fraud in any department or agency,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “Together with my dedicated team of experts, we will make California the first true 21st-century government in America.”

    Among its recommendations, the commission suggested eliminating portions of the Cal Grant, the state’s financial aid award for low-income students. Under the plan, the state would replace the grant with fee waivers to be used at all UC and CSU campuses. Community colleges would also receive authority to allocate Cal Grant funds to financially needy students.

    UC administrators expressed worry over the proposal.

    “We are concerned that [the plan], which proposes that Cal Grants be converted to fee waivers, may have significant unintended consequences for undergraduate student access to the university,” said UC Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs M.R.C. Greenwood.

    If adopted, the process would eliminate a substantial role of the California Student Aid Commission, the state’s principal provider of grant aid for postsecondary students. CSAC’s function of determining a student’s financial eligibility and other criteria are “duplicative and unnecessary,” the report stated, since higher education institutions are required to complete a similar analysis for students.

    “These proposals, rather than blowing up a box, would only serve to torpedo college access and affordability to California’s middle- and low-income students,” CSAC Executive Director Diana Michel-Fuentes said in a statement responding to the report.

    The report also suggests consolidating four higher education entities into a single division in the state’s executive branch. The California Community College Chancellor’s Office, the California Postsecondary Education Commission, CSAC and the Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education would be combined into a department under an appointed deputy secretary of education. The move would save $1.5 million in the first year.

    Opponents of the measure have already spoken out strongly against the proposal.

    The move would politicize important education and policy decisions that affect nearly three million Californians, California Community College Chancellor Mark Drummond said in a statement responding to the CPR suggestions.

    Despite their objections, both Drummond and Welinsky believe many of the CPR recommendations merit further consideration.

    Other proposals in the report call for giving community colleges new authority to award bachelor’s degrees, in addition to requiring 16 hours of community service for all students attending California’s public colleges and universities in order to graduate.

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