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In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss multiple news items coming out of California that could be an early view into nationwide reactions – Cal State system remaining (mostly) virtual through Fall 2020 and California’s revised budget and its impact on higher education.

Hosts:

  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly

Transcription:

Phil: Well, welcome back to the podcast COVID Transitions. I’m Phil Hill, and again I’m here with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman for another episode. Welcome. And I probably need to get started saying, Jeanette, any updates on how your husband’s doing and how your family is recovering?

Jeanette: Thank you, Phil. We’re doing really well. He’s recovering nicely. The bruising is still there, but surprisingly not as bad as you would think. I think it may be a few more weeks till he’s feeling completely back to normal but thanks, we’re all doing well.

Phil: I like that intro because now people who are just starting to listen to this episode are going to have to go back one episode and get started earlier. So that’s that’s good.

Jeanette: Yes. That’s a good tease.

Phil: Yes. Yes. And Kevin, how are you doing? I know that look like you had some impressive work you were doing last week with the stained glass window outside. So how are things going in your household?

Kevin: Well, we did that work outside over the weekend, and then I haven’t seen it since. It’s been it’s been busy. And Phil, if you’re going to entice people to go back and listen to previous episodes, they should have to go find it.

Phil: Oh, it’s a treasure hunt. Well, this will be our sixth episode of COVID Transition. At least now listeners will know how many they might have to search through.

As for me, probably one of the more disappointing days I had is when I needed to take a break from being in the office so much, and at lunchtime, I took the dog to go walk on the beach and rediscovered that we have our beaches closed from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It was very difficult to convince the dog that we couldn’t walk down the stairs. He’s not as concerned about the fines that they levy out here if you go on the beach at the wrong time. Sort of first world problems. But that was a challenge for us.

Jeanette: Sorry to hear that. I didn’t know that had happened.

Phil: Yes. Well, I felt dumb, too. Of course I’d know this, but once I get there, I’m like, ‘oh, I can’t even go down the beach.’ But that’s something I might even turn to what we’d like to talk about today, which is problems in California, or opportunities in California. Basically all things California.

A lot of the news this week has centered on the announcement by California State University system that they are opening primarily online for the fall. We’ll go into more details of what that means, but most classes will be online for all 23 California State University campuses for Fall 2020. And that obviously has repercussions beyond just the system.

And I like the way that they actually mentioned this in the Wall Street Journal coverage, where they noted that “five percent of Americans holding a college degree graduated from a Cal State school.” It puts it in perspective how influential that is. And at the same time, the University of California, one of the other public systems here, they have not announced anything yet, but they certainly seem to be indicating that they plan to go mostly hybrid,

In the same Wall Street Journal article, they said that campuses would have most likely have some mix between remote and in-person. They even said “at this juncture, it’s likely none of our campuses will fully reopen in the fall.” I think the emphasis there is on the “fully”. “We’re exploring a mixed approach with some instruction delivered in classroom and lab settings while other classes will be primarily online.”

And then the third piece of news that came out is that the governor’s May Revise of the budget came out yesterday. In short, in California, the way the state funding works is the initial budget comes out at the very beginning of the year, in the January timeframe. Then in May, they issue what’s the May Revise, which are revisions to the proposed budget based on internal discussions, hearings, various activities. And this year, obviously, the big change is COVID-19. A lot of people have been looking to see what’s going to happen to the budget, and they released that yesterday. And then there’s final debate and typically gets enacted, some form of the budget gets enacted, by July. But in this case, I guess the headlines – and there are other things we’ll cover – but the headlines are, particularly for Cal State University and the University of California, for those two systems, there had been planned increases of general funding on the order of five %. The increases have been canceled, and they’ve added 10 % budget cuts for both of them from the general fund. There’s more details in there, but it seems like there this week there is a lot going on in California that impacts not just our state, but what’s going to be happening for the rest of the country. It is interesting that we’re getting a lot of California news this week.

Kevin: I would add that the news you brought up are only two of the three systems, and the biggest system [Community Colleges] that Chancellor Oakley this week said that it’s going to be up to the campuses whether or not they go fully online or hybridize or some aspect of addressing the Fall formats. And also in the budget, I guess the movie ‘It’s Complicated’ is the title of the day for the community college system, because it’s a lot more complicated than removing the five % increase and adding a 10 % decrease to the budget for that system as well.

Phil: I would have done more in Twitter when I was originally reading the budget revise about the community college system, if I could figure it out. And as I was saying in response to someone, I think I need a mafia accountant to try to figure out what the community college finances are. It’s just complicated in many ways. Property taxes, state funding, free college tuition. It’s hard to get a good summary. So that’s something that we don’t have as clear of a definition on.

Kevin: But if you’re going with Mafia bookkeepers and you have to go all the way to ‘The Untouchables,’ and quote “What are you prepared to do?”

Phil: Jeanette is our lone non California resident online right now. How important do you think the California news is? How specific is it to our state, or how important do you think it will be to your state of New Mexico, and for other states within the U.S.?

Jeanette: I think California is always sort of a bellwether for a lot of people to look to. I think that the size of these systems are so important that people are going to want to see how they handle it. For Cal State to say everything’s going online is a huge thing, regardless of where you live, because there’s going to be other systems are going to go, how are they doing that, number one? And should we be doing that as well? Regardless of New Mexico, at least the University of New Mexico, which is our flagship, is not going fully online. They are actually giving instructors the choice of how they want to teach their class in the fall. Knowing that most of them will not be doing face to face. So a choice of hybrid, HyFlex, fully online.

I’m not sure what other university systems are doing, I just have some insight there, but I do think California’s one of those places to see how are they going to handle this. Not only from how is the curriculum and teaching going to occur, but how is California, which had such a big cushion in terms of their budget, how are they going to be handling the shortfall? If not, I mean, the majority of states did have that. New Mexico did because of oil revenues, but those are gone.

I think also everyone’s wondering, is the federal government going to kick any money in for higher education? And I don’t know. I know none of us know that right now, I think especially given an election year. But we need to figure that out. I think that’s sort of going to be the saving grace for some higher ed public institutions in this country.

Phil: Well, to note two things. First of all, Cal State, I don’t believe it’s accurate to portray them as fully online. Really, what they said is “the CSU courses primarily will be delivered virtually through the fall 2020 term with limited exceptions for in-person teaching.”

It’s mostly online, but they’re they’re certainly going to make exceptions, both in terms of disciplines that have to be in-person. It’s almost up to the programs themselves that they’ll have to justify why they have to meet in person, and how they can do it safely. And then the chancellor also mentioned that there will be flexibility around the state and even specifically mentioned up in northern California, far northern California, Humboldt State University up in Arcata, might have a different approach than what you would have for Cal State LA, for example. It gets to that point of it’s mostly online. But it’s not fully online. I definitely agree that it’s significant

Kevin: Bringing it all together, that two ideas of California being a leader in higher ed decisions and then being a leader in the governor’s office and his budget decisions. I wish they had been a little more intentional around some of the planning for the higher ed budget, because high approval ratings for Governor Newsom and how he’s taken decisive action based on data and facts regarding the spread of Coronavirus. And here you have in their labor and workforce section of the same budget. We have 4.4 Million people on unemployment as of a week ago. And that’s a real opportunity to spin up something like competency based workforce training, add money to things like the California Virtual Campus – Online Education Initiatives, Pathways Grants that are doing Career and Technical Education programs, and really focusing on how do we spin up different micro-credentials or things that would get people back to work quickly. It’s seems like if California really wanted to take advantage of this tumultuous time we’re in, and make real change, they would do more than make it one part of a lone bullet and a preamble to the California Higher Ed budget.

Phil: Obviously the general theme is massive cuts to the budget. California has stated that they’re projecting roughly a $54 billion budget shortfall. And going back to what Jeanette said. A large part of that will be addressed by the surplus that had been built up in the state. But then there’s heavy cuts, and even some financial gains or changes that are being used to to cover that. But the net effect is – it’s almost like investment today is equaling ‘at least you’re not getting cut.’ That seems to be the mode. I’m sure in other states as well, there’s almost a feeling of ‘All right, can we escape some of the cuts that are happening?’

Jeanette: I want to go back directly to what Kevin said around how Newsom has gotten a lot of accolades for how he’s handled COVID and looking at data and also even the way he, or whomever in his office, in the Budget Office, decided to present this summary.

And it was to say, we’re going to hold on to our values. And I think one of the key things that they could do is do what you said, Kevin, and go back and see how could they take these changes, the loss of jobs, and change California for the better. This is the opportunity to do it. If you were going to put money into anywhere, it would be in education. To me, in higher education especially, it would be to try to maybe help those people that are out of work right now. And ways to do that could be going back to school. I hope that when they are looking at the budget, and when people are discussing it for July, that some of that discussion is happening and people are looking at the ways you can hold on to the California values of making sure that people are getting educated in this time, rather than just waiting for their jobs to open up, which maybe won’t happen. It’s the flexibility, and I think that would be important.

Phil: I’d like to highlight some of the other elements that came out. And it’s good to point out this is a summary of the May budget Revise – we don’t have all the details yet. There’s a long summary document that we have available, and the full details will be rolling out. But one of the things that struck me was that they’re projecting, there’s still going to be overall growth in all three systems in enrollment over the coming years. They called out the community colleges in particular. “We’ll likely see notable increases because the enrollment trends tend to rise when economic challenges emerge.”

It makes an assumption that the community college system is not going to see an enrollment drop. And I do know that they’re seeing increases for the summer. But this Budget Revise seems to assume that the community colleges may even increase enrollment this fall. It didn’t say that explicitly, but it seems to have that assumption within the document. I don’t know what to say other than that’s something to watch for it. I think there’s a lot of estimating going on, but it’s interesting to note on what their assumptions on enrollments are going to be, and how it’s different between the three systems.

Kevin: Well, and I can agree with the assumptions, but I think they’re predicating it on situations that are a lot different. This COVID experience isn’t over. When they’re comparing it to things like the 2008 downturn for the housing market, or anything like that, that had a finite time period. Where we don’t know when this is going to end.

The other part is just in terms of logic, it does make sense that people would go to community colleges for things like general ed courses or things like that, rather than paying full freight at Stanford or some other school that they might be enrolled in. I can see the summer enrollment, we saw the Finish Faster Online initiative between the community college system and the Cal State system. A lot of Cal State students over the summer were taking a lot of community college courses in order to get some different requirements out of the way. There is precedent for the community colleges picking up some of the slack from other systems.

Phil: Jeanette, go on back to your state of New Mexico. Have you seen any kind of projections on enrollment within the public systems out there?

Jeanette: I haven’t seen anything. No, I haven’t seen any. It’s not a focus. I think it’s not the same type of focus.

Phil: Yeah. I think that that sort of gets to part of why I think this news is significant. It’s not that California’s right, but there’s so much within the higher education where schools look to others on what are you going to put a stake in the ground saying? Is it online? Is it hybrid? Is it fully reopening? How much do you think your enrollment is going to change? Some of the significance is simply seeing more of public estimations from systems on what’s going to happen with enrollment.

Now we go from something that significant to something that I found interesting to mention this in this much detail within the Budget Revise. Specifically it was mentioned “collaboratively adopt the use of a common online learning management system, for example, Canvas, which is already used by over 80 % of the UC, CSU and CCC.”

I have to admit I, first of all, was not expecting to see that issue raised within the budget, that now is the time to look at doing a common learning management system across three systems. And I also found it weird that there was a specific mention of one example, Canvas, mentioned in the Budget Revise. So that caught me off guard, or I found that pretty curious.

Jeanette: It’s not the Budget Revise. It’s the summary. So that’s even more weird, I think.

Kevin: Well, I think one thing to consider is that 114 out of 114 community colleges are using canvas, and that’s practically 80 % of all of higher ed in the state of California by itself. So it may not be true that the other two systems have even 50 % using Canvas, and makes that decision that much harder to generate because you have campuses that go through pretty thoughtful processes to make these decisions. And to have this state governor’s office say in a comment, as Jeanette said, for the summary of the budget. This is an idea they threw out there that doesn’t seem following that thoughtful process that they’ve been using for everything else.

Phil: Well, I wonder if it was thrown in to make a signal that, ‘hey, we are investing in online infrastructure and e-learning.’ I almost wonder if it was thrown in for the optics of it.

Jeanette: But why mention a specific brand and company?

Phil: I don’t know. I mean, that is the system that is most heavily used, certainly in all three systems, I believe, or at least it’s the fastest growing in all three systems. But why mention it by name? I’m not quite sure about that. So count that as some curious thing to try to understand that it was thrown in there.

Another thing that I noticed, and I don’t want to go too deep into this since our focus is more on teaching and learning, but they actually increase the authorization for the University of California, the UC Path, which is essentially a large centralization of their ERP system that I’ve written about it at e-Literate, about how it’s just ballooned in schedule and a budget, that is way over budget, way over schedule. Lot of questions about what it’s actually doing. But specifically called out is that they’re going to increase the authorization from $15.3 million to $46.8 million. I am also curious, why was that put in there at this time as now’s the time to increase investment in UC Path? I’d love to see if either of you have any clues about that one.

Kevin: No clues here.

Phil: There was also an OER play. There was a note of ‘remove the plan.’ There had been a plan of investing $10 million of one time general fund to develop and implement zero textbook costs degrees. There’s an OER play that had been in the January budget, and now it’s been taken out. That’s something worth noting for the OER community.

Kevin: My guess is the OER community would do it anyway. Just they won’t have any funding to support faculty training and development of materials.

Phil: What should we expect over the next week or two from the rest of higher education? I guess a core hypothesis is that now that California State University, being so large and being the most definitive plans for such a large system out there, will this get the ball rolling? Kevin, I know that you had your your analogy to how Higher Ed works that might be bringing up again.

Kevin: Yeah, the analogy of having only a couple of people on the high school dance floor is still in play. And California is maybe one of the cool kids. Maybe so. But everybody else is either watching from the drink table or hasn’t arrived yet. So we need to see what this will do for us.

Jeanette: Of course you guys always think you’re the cool kids. Always the California crowd.

I wonder, though … this issue’s become sort of politicized. I’m wondering if we’re going to see alignment with school closings between Republican and Democratic governors at this point, and how that’s going to play out. Because that seems to be the case in a lot of other states, in terms of other things closing and other things opening. How are those public universities going to be opened or closed, online or hybrid, based on what the government in that state is aligned to?

Kevin: I think that may be less along party lines and more along population lines. Because if you look at Ohio, with the Republican governor taking some of the same steps that you see out of New York and California, you might see smaller population states making different decisions than just Republicans and Democrats in general.

Phil: I’d like to believe that there will be rational decision making the way you’re implying, Kevin, is something that’s situationally appropriate. Where I’m most concerned, it’s not what the answer is, because we need to acknowledge, as we mentioned on a previous episode, there’s a lot of uncertainty out there and will continue to be a lot of uncertainties. And whatever choice is made for a school, there will be people arguing against it. We’re just not going to have clarity. However, what’s unfortunate to me with the politics is that it’s become so black and white, so much of good versus evil set of decisions, when, in fact, as I was writing in my blog posts that came out about the Hybridization of Higher Education, in most cases, you’re not seeing we’re 100 % online, no exceptions, nor are we seeing on the other side, we’re going to 100 % open and not make any type of accommodations for safety or social distancing. I think that what we’re seeing so far, and what we need to see, is that there is a balance that needs to be made. Wise decisions on how to slice the higher education experience into what’s appropriate for online and what’s appropriate for face to face, for each geographic or school type that’s out there. And I do think that we’re seeing that. But when you look at the politics, it’s way too much trying to force us into an all or nothing type of argument that’s, to me, inappropriate for what the real choices we face are. But the politics could push us that direction. I guess I’m concerned about it, just in general, because the quality of discussion is not helping out at this point.

Jeanette: To add to that, I think there’s a lot of concern around revenues. And I’m sure there are university presidents, while, of course they want to make sure everyone’s safe and healthy, and there isn’t going to be a major outbreak on their campus, that would be a nightmare for anyone. But also this real huge financial concern that if they go online, they are going to lose enrollment, thus lose the revenue. And the risk of the school closing is really high. And so it’s a balance as well – what they’re going to do and how it’s going to affect their university or college long term.

Kevin: And to Phil’s point about the politicization of the whole thing, it’s almost like a Universal Design for Fall Planning, where if you take a look at the graphic you had on your Hybridization article, it showed a range of online and face to face options, making it possible for students and campuses to choose from multiple pathways. I’m hoping that we do take the politics out of it and focus more on just getting things done. And hopefully to Jeanette’s point that won’t have as difficult of a budget implication for tuition, things like that, if we are at least helping people finish.

Phil: What is the likelihood that we can get politics out of these discussions?

Kevin: Whoo! That’s that’s not a COVID conversation, that’s a Beer 30 conversation.

Phil: Yes, it is. OK. So, well, we’ll avoid that. But I guess the key point, certainly, from what we’re looking at is there are complex choices that  schools and leadership teams are facing right now. And even in the cases of Cal State and the University of California, you do have a range of hybrid. Even though the Cal State system, the default is online. And then you have  the complexities of the economics, and that seems to be really captured in the California Budget Revise, where we have significant budget cuts. Definitely with the Cal State in the UC systems, and schools have to face this reality of how do you balance safety? How do you handle the budget cuts, and what is the right decision to preserve safety, academics, economics and move forward?

We’ve known this all along that this was going to be a challenging situation, but we believe the the three news items out of California will really lay down a marker. I would assume that over the next week or two, we’re going to start seeing a lot more news out of higher education on how schools are choosing to plan for the fall. And hopefully they’ll be more definitive than what we’ve seen in many cases so far.

Thank you for your time. And we’ll definitely keep watch to see what the news is over the coming week.