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California Policy Group Calls for a New State Higher-Ed Coordinating Agency

Just a day after the heads of California’s three state higher-education systems met to pledge increased cooperation, a policy group released a report saying that California needs a new higher-education coordinating body.

The report, released on Thursday by California Competes, argues that the state’s complex educational needs, and its three huge and very different public systems, call for “an entity with responsibility for articulating a broad public agenda for higher education.”

The authors of the report, “Charting a Course for California’s Colleges,” note that “policies and practices across institutions are likely to be more coherent if they are made centrally.” They add that a layer of oversight between the systems and state government “can also provide some inoculation from the political pressures that might emerge”—especially likely to be true in California, a state that has been beset by budget battles and whose current governor, Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has made increasing demands for accountability from public colleges.

The report rejects the idea of a governing board, with actual direct control over institutions, in favor of a coordinating agency that would make recommendations. The proposed Higher Education Investment Board would assess the state’s postsecondary educational needs; examine how the programs available meet those needs, or fail to; and develop strategies to improve educational outcomes and institutional accountability. The board would have an appointed membership, be a nonprofit organization rather than an arm of state government, and be supported by fees from colleges rather than a direct state appropriation.

California once had such an agency, the California Postsecondary Education Commission, but its influenced waned, and Governor Brown ended its funding in 2011. The report notes that California and Michigan are the only states currently without a statewide higher-education oversight body of some kind.

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