Bill seeks report cards on higher education

Tanya Schevitz, Chronicle Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A key state legislator is pushing for an accountability system that would help parents and taxpayers tell whether the state's colleges and universities are delivering on their promise of a quality education.

"We have just sort of taken it for granted that every institution is doing a good job. We haven't been as transparent as we should be," state Sen. Jack Scott told The Chronicle. "We ought to be telling parents what you are going to get if you spend $50,000 or $100,000 on your child's education."

Scott's bill, SB325, already has state Senate approval, and it won unanimous support Tuesday from the Assembly Higher Education Committee, which forwarded it for a vote by the full Assembly.

It would establish a procedure for collecting and analyzing information from California's public and private campuses, said Scott, D-Altadena (Los Angeles County), chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

The bill, if adopted, would be one of Scott's last major legislative packages before leaving office in January to become chancellor of the 109-campus California community college system. In it, he wants college administrators to provide information in a broad range of areas, from affordability, capacity and diversity, to rates of students graduating and successful preparation for employment.

His bill would require the state's community colleges and the California State University system to provide annual reports. It urges the University of California, which is constitutionally autonomous, as well as private colleges, to provide the same reports voluntarily.

"Each year, California spends over $14 billion on higher education. Given this tremendous expenditure, it does make sense for us to have a system of accountability," Scott said during the Assembly committee meeting Tuesday.

Many colleges and universities already track the same data but do not report to the state in a consistent fashion to allow for comparison by parents and state decision-makers, Scott said.

While the report's final format has not been determined, Scott envisions an easy-to-understand document that would allow parents and taxpayers to compare all the state's colleges and universities. It would also allow legislators to make better-informed decisions, Scott said.

The CSU system is supporting the bill and has already signed on with an even more comprehensive national accountability system called the Voluntary System of Accountability that was started by two major higher education groups.

That system includes actual testing of what students gained during their time in college in areas such as reading comprehension, analytic ability and writing skills. Scott's proposal does not include testing.

"Policymakers understand how costly higher education is, and they want it to be productive. I understand why the state of California would expect the universities it funds be able to demonstrate success with students and for students," said Gary Reichard, CSU's executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer. "It is time for us to look at our practices and curriculum to see if we are achieving the results we want and to improve them if we are not."

The University of California has declined to participate in the national program, in part because of the testing requirement. But it supports Scott's proposal and would participate.

"We believe it would be very useful for policymakers and the public to have a statewide accountability framework that provides a total picture of how well higher education is serving the state's needs," UC spokesman Brad Hayward said.

The state's community colleges and Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities also support the bill.

E-mail Tanya Schevitz at

This article appeared on page B - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle