Innovation Awards Only One Part of the Story

A successful residential university must combine innovation with personal connections.

From the July 2 edition of the Monterey County Weekly

In May, two eye-catching pieces of mail arrived at our provost’s office – checks for $5 million and $3 million.

No, we didn’t win the Lottery, or receive generous gifts from donors – although the latter, of course, are always welcome. These checks represented the awards that Cal State Monterey Bay received through the first – and we hope not the last – California Awards for Innovation in Higher Education program.

Gov. Jerry Brown spearheaded a $50 million Innovation Competition this year, open to campuses from all three public higher education systems in our state. There were 58 applicants; 14 awards were made in three award tiers. Of those 14 awards, two of them (one Tier 1 and one Tier 2 award) were awarded to CSU Monterey Bay. Wewere the only university to receive two awards, amounting to 16 percent of the total pool. That is why I have taken to referring to us as the most innovative public university inCalifornia.

Our Tier-1 $5-million award went to our CSIT-in-3 program, a year-round, three-year bachelor's degree in computer science and information technology. This program is delivered inpartnership with Hartnell College.

It is on track to achieve very high completion rates. Thanks to the aggressive outreach by its faculty leaders, it draws students primarily from the migrant worker communities in the Salinas Valley, with nearly half of its enrolled students being women. The program has received support from the National Science Foundation and from the Matsui Foundation, which provides generous scholarships to all the enrolled students.

The second program, Math Huge, received a Tier-2 $3 million award. This is a math developmental program that achieves phenomenal results, with its students graduating at higher rates than the overall student body, and with half of its participants becoming math majors!

Math Huge devotes class time to teamwork on problems, during eight-hour, five-days-a-week sessions over several weeks in the summer. The program is cost-effective, with class sizes of70 to 80 made feasible by supplementing the instructor-coach with three student-peer mentors, who circulate throughout the room helping groups with any sticky problems.

Beyond CSUMB’s specific results, I believe the innovation awards program achieves three important objectives. It recognizes and rewards higher education innovators. It provides funding to allow those innovations to be “scaled up,” to be shared with and adopted by other campuses facing similar issues.

And it shines a light on the very real efforts across higher education to adopt to changing demands, new technologies and constrained resources.

In California and nationwide, public higher education has had to cope with a historic level of disinvestment as a result of the Great Recession. According to the Public Policy Institute ofCalifornia, between 2007–08 and 2012–13, state appropriations to UC and CSU fell by $2 billion or more than 30 percent, even as enrollment increased. On a per-student basis and adjusted for inflation, general fund subsidies per student fell by more than 50 percent at UC and CSU.

Funding has rebounded somewhat in recent years, with the passage of Proposition 30 and the improving economy. The recent agreement in Sacramento for next year’s state budget will allow the CSU to increase its enrollment by 3 percent, but state allocations on a per-student basis are still well short of pre-recession levels.

Tuition increases have made up some of that gap. But it is worth noting that tuition and fees (and student debt levels) at CSU campuses are well below national averages for public institutions. This fall will represent the fourth straight year of no tuition hikes at the CSU.

In this fiscal environment, changeis inevitable; business as usual is not really an option.

The challenges faced by today’s colleges and universities have touched off a new round of books such as “The End of College” by Kevin Carey and “College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education” by Ryan Craig, which see the current model of higher education as inherently flawed and not supportable.

I agree that, in the future, more students will find alternative paths to a higher education that do not involve a traditional residential campus. Technology will bring education within reach of many place-bound students who otherwise would not have that access.

Higher education must continue to seek new approaches to improving access, graduation rates, time to degree, and efficiency, while maintaining or improving the quality of educational outcomes. Information technology tools—as well as innovative pedagogies—play an important role in these efforts.

However, a residential college experience will remain the preferred route for many if not most students, particularly traditional-age students. As we seek to expand access to higher education – and about 57 percent of CSUMB students are first-generation – the personal ties and experiences that those students develop in a campus setting with fellow students, faculty and staff members will continue to be essential to their social and intellectual development.

In a world of explosive growth of information, the skills and abilities developed through those interactions will prove to be of even more lasting value than specific content knowledge.

Innovation is important. But no innovation will ever replace those personal connection.