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Reordering Educational Priorities : Finances: College systems try to deal with budget crisis by improving productivity and cost efficiency. Better use of technology and regional cooperation are urged.


SACRAMENTO — As California's public colleges and universities struggle through their most difficult fiscal crisis in recent memory, attention is turning to ways to improve productivity and cost efficiency in the state's higher education system.

Instructional television, computerized libraries, and more cooperation among University of California, California State University and community college campuses are among the ideas being pondered as education officials face up to the painful reality that the state's budget problems are not short term.

"We are assuming good things are not going to happen with the budget in the near term," said Chancellor Barry Munitz of the 20-campus Cal State system, "so we are placing more emphasis on higher productivity and greater efficiency."

New approaches are needed, Munitz and other officials believe, to cope with the series of financial blows California higher education has suffered in the last two or three years.

UC's state support was reduced 10.5% this year, while Cal State was cut 9%. Only a $240-million loan from the state, which must be paid back in two years, has kept the 107-campus community college system on roughly the same financial footing as last year.

Nor does the future looks much brighter.

"It's pretty clear there isn't going to be any new money next year" for higher education, said Maureen DiMarco, Gov. Pete Wilson's secretary for child development and education. "It's time to stop pretending this is a temporary problem and come up with a real plan, some real options."

In response to this kind of prodding, committees, commissions and task forces are at work in all three segments of the public higher education system, as well as at the California Postsecondary Education Commission and other planning bodies. These are some of the ideas under consideration:

* More and better use of technology to deliver instruction at lower cost and also to reduce administrative expenses.

* Regional cooperation among the higher education systems.

* Increasing faculty teaching load, especially in the UC system.

* Concentrating expensive academic programs on a few campuses.

In the area of technology, all three public education systems, and some private colleges, are beginning to make greater use of televised courses, which generally enable a single instructor to handle many more students than would be possible in a conventional classroom.

More than 4,300 students are enrolled in telecourses at Coastline Community College in Orange County, which transmits the classes to neighborhood "learning centers" and to individual homes.

In a cooperative program called "two plus two," Coastline students take upper-division (junior and senior) courses offered by Cal State Dominguez Hills. Coastline students watch the Dominguez Hills classes on a large TV screen and interact with the professors and other students by telephone.

At Cal State Chico, televised courses are beamed to more than 600 students at 16 sites scattered throughout remote regions of Northern California. The college also offers courses in computer science leading to a master's degree, transmitted by satellite to several hundred engineers throughout the country.

Cal State plans to take the use of technology further if it succeeds in opening a campus at Ft. Ord, the Army base near Monterey that will be abandoned by 1994.

"It will be fundamentally different from scratch," Munitz said of the proposed campus. "We'll have touch-tone registration, an entirely new library concept, FAX machines to distribute articles instead of subscribing to expensive periodicals and much more."

In the California Community Colleges system, officials hope to use technology not only to offer instruction but also to plan new campus facilities and reduce the cost of running the 107 two-year colleges, systemwide Chancellor David Mertes said.

Mertes and Chancellor Munitz of the Cal State system believe that significant savings can come from efforts to "regionalize" higher education course offerings.

The "two plus two" arrangement between Coastline Community College and Cal State Dominguez Hills is one example of regional cooperation between higher education systems. Munitz and Mertes say much more can be done along those lines.

President John Slaughter of Occidental College, a small, private liberal arts institution in Los Angeles, predicted that shared courses between public and private colleges and universities in the same part of the state "will be very common in the year 2000 and beyond."

Munitz said money could be saved, and students would graduate in shorter time than the six to seven years it now takes to obtain a CSU bachelor's degree, if students could enroll at several colleges simultaneously, some near their homes, others near work.

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