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California higher education hangs in the balance as UC, Cal State search for new leaders

Teresa Watanabe and Nina Agrawal, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

UC insiders say hundreds of names will probably be submitted for an initial look before the field is narrowed to serious candidates and a decision is made by regents, possibly next spring.

Potential candidates named at the faculty meetings included Crow and F. King Alexander, president of Louisiana State University who previously headed California State, Long Beach for seven years and has made a national mark with his advocacy of greater federal partnerships and state public funding for higher education.

In an interview, Alexander said key challenges for California higher education were the enormous demand for seats in university systems with limited capacity and state funding levels that, while recovered from deep cuts after the Great Recession, remain well below levels two decades ago. While more online learning is part of the answer, he said, the state must increase funding "if it wants to remain the nation's beacon of affordable higher education."

Asked if he was interested in either job, Alexander said he is leaving his options "open" -- adding that his wife is "particularly fond of the weather in Long Beach."

"It's a great place," he said. "California public higher education is kind of like the Rose Bowl -- the granddaddy of them all."

Crow is widely admired for his visionary rebuild of traditional higher education models and criticized for his aggressive use of educational technology.


In an interview, he said UC and Cal State both need to figure out how to better use technology and innovation to vastly open access to both traditional college students and adult learners. He also said campuses need more freedom to launch entrepreneurial projects and partnerships that can help them raise money and lessen dependence on state funding.

Crow has used all of those approaches at ASU, building enrollment to 120,000 students -- more than one-third of them online -- in what he calls a New American University model that offers wide access over the selectivity favored by many elite universities.

"The old model has run its course," Crow said. "It's time for new ways to engage while not giving up one iota of quality or one iota of excellence."

Other names mentioned for the UC job include Michael Drake, who is stepping down next year from the helm of Ohio State University and who previously served as chancellor of the University of California, Irvine and UC vice chancellor for health affairs. Under his leadership, Ohio State set all-time highs in student retention and graduation rates, diversity, applications and research expenditures while reducing debt burdens. He also launched a tuition guarantee program for each incoming class of students, a model that UC regents are currently considering. Drake could not be reached for comment.


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