Four Policy Issues: Fees, Textbooks, Degrees, and Corporatization


Educational Policies Committee breakouts at the Fall Plenary Session featured an exciting variety of intense policy discussions.

The highlight from the Committee's point of view was the Saturday adoption of the paper What's Wrong with Student Fees? Renewing the Commitment to No-Fee, Open-Access Community Colleges in California, and the companion resolution that urges proactive use of the material to educate the public and legislators on the reasons to roll back mandatory student fees to the zero level of just twenty years ago, rather than to succumb to the continuing upward trend.

Resolved, That the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges encourage all faculty and local senates to use the paper What's Wrong with Student Fees? Renewing the Commitment to No-Fee, Open-Access Community Colleges in California to continue engaging in the debate over student fees and to continue advocating for the reduction and eventual elimination of mandatory fees in California community colleges.

Despite 25 prior resolutions on student fees, this is the first major position paper that the Academic Senate has adopted on the issue of fees in the community colleges. It includes a history and philosophy behind the Academic Senate's longstanding opposition to fees as well as arguments that can be used to rebut common rationales for raising fees. In the light of general session addresses by Scott Lay and Patrick Callan that apparently made the all too common, but unspoken, assumption that fees must continue to increase, the call to action is particularly timely. As author Alan Freeman recently stated, "Reforms that are presented as economic necessities are in fact usually political choices." Given the declining percentage of state tax revenues spent on higher education, fee increases in California have certainly been a political choice. Breakout participants joined lead author Alisa Messer in an interactive simulation of public debate using the material in the paper.

The other Educational Policies breakouts featured discussion and information gathering in three areas where the Committee is working on possible future papers: textbook issues, associate degrees and corporatization.

Textbook issues have surfaced in several arenas in the past year. Student representative Karen Johnson highlighted the significant barrier to college attendance posed by rising textbook prices, and she described the efforts of the California Legislature to address the problem last year with two bills (AB 2477, Liu, and the vetoed AB 2678, Koretz). Foundation President Larry Toy presented several marketing or technology options that could reduce prices, and then debated with the audience some additional consequences of each option, such as reduced choice for faculty or electronic-only access for students. Committee members Paul Setziol and Karolyn Hanna reviewed steps that faculty members can take to contain costs and provoked a lively discussion around ethical issues of authorship and adoption procedures. The ultimate question is whether the student need for lower prices can be creatively balanced with the faculty need for academic freedom and the best classroom material.

The breakout on the meaning of the associate degree in our system was prompted by several recent external conversations where others have seemed to be defining us for reasons that did not obviously benefit our students. The concept of an "automatic degree" was prompted by Partnership for Excellence accountability measurements that many considered inherently meaningless. The California State University has called for a uniform transfer degree with Chancellor Reed recently telling our Board of Governors that the number of degrees was all that mattered. And others have advocated for an Associate in Applied Sciences degree specifically for vocational students. The debate on Math-English graduation requirements surfaced briefly but most of the discussion was around larger questions of student and employer expectations of a degree both in California and nationwide. Participants joined Committee member Angela Caballero de Cordero to examine the Title 5 Regulations that currently authorize our degrees and questioned whether we can offer multiple flavors of associate degree without making some of them appear "second class."

The "corporatization" issue has been discussed for several years and is the subject of many scholarly articles including a comprehensive collection in the inaugural edition of the AFT's new journal American Academic. Much of the national debate focuses on control of university research and global labor trends. This breakout asked the participants to focus on what issues were important to a teaching institution and whether there was an Academic Senate perspective, distinct from the existing literature, that would make an appropriate position paper. Participants ranked the importance of the many ideas shared by Committee presenters Bob Grill and Zwi Reznik and showed particular concern for academic consultants, sale of courses, the impact of hierarchical management theories on shared governance and the effect of the market model on grades.