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Prescriptions for a New-Economy State University

Cal State Channel Islands' relationships with community colleges will be critical in this era of vanishing job security and demand for continuing education and retraining.

August 06, 2000|ROBERT OLIPHANT | Robert Oliphant is executive director of Californians for Community College Equity and a mental fitness consultant. He lives in Thousand Oaks

Cal State Channel Islands can fairly be called Ventura County's "new economy" university. It's centrally positioned, far more so than UC Santa Barbara is for Santa Barbara County; and the energetic regional economy that it will serve is far more cohesive and comprehensible than that of Los Angeles County. More than its neighbors, CSUCI will be only a local phone call away from many of the businesses and workers it will serve.

Our new economy is a puzzling creature. In a recent speech to the nation's governors, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan noted as a "counterintuitive" paradox the fact that employment in our new economy is at an all-time high today because job security is at an all-time low, thereby giving business management far more flexibility and speed with which to meet new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities.

Unfortunately, as Greenspan also pointed out, low levels of job security create a horrendous amount of anxiety and despair for those who more and more find themselves "on the bricks"--does any of us ever forget what it feels like to be fired? Hence Greenspan's emphasis upon the need for continuing education and retraining; and hence also the need for CSUCI planners to recognize four basic prescriptions implied by the Greenspan Paradox:

* Rx. Ventura County's new-economy university should emphasize upper-division instruction, not freshman-sophomore courses. In his speech, Greenspan stressed the importance of two-year community colleges, including their transfer role, in helping Americans to deal with low levels of job security.

Nor was Greenspan's omission of four-year schools surprising, since as an economist he's familiar with the statistics, including the fact that right now Californians get four times the value of each community college dollar spent as they get for a dollar spent at UC Berkeley, as pointed our by Tom Kane (American Economic Review) and by Lester Thurow. With three excellent low-tuition community colleges in Ventura County, CSUCI should resist the temptation to duplicate what's already here and working, especially in view of the impressive transfer records Ventura County students produce.

* Rx. Ventura County's new-economy university should establish active liaison relationships with its community college partners. Right now, most academic chairs in California's four-year schools don't even know the names of their community college opposite numbers. This must change--fast!

In terms of Greenspan's community college emphasis, Ventura County needs full-fledged academic partnership, not covert competition and snobbery. In that partnership, community colleges should handle all of the General Education courses, thereby freeing the university faculty to concentrate on their primary responsibility: offering productive upper-division instructional programs.

* Rx. Ventura County's new-economy university should emphasize nationally accredited academic majors. As indicated by Detroit's new industry-wide standards for its suppliers, quality control will be increasingly essential in the years that lie ahead for our new economy.

Since national accrediting agencies like the American Chemical Society and the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business rigorously monitor the practices of the programs they approve, academic majors like these give students more job-seeking credibility than majors thrown together on the basis of a faculty whim.

* Rx. Ventura County's new-economic university should offer as many free-choice electives in the arts and in athletics as possible. A Juilliard-trained clarinetist, Greenspan forcefully reminded the governors, including California's Gray Davis, that artistic studies are essential--does any one of us regret the concentration power and self-confidence we acquired from learning to play a musical instrument or sing in a choir? And the same kind of benefit certainly stems from personal-best athletic training, as indicated by the growth of health clubs, rock climbing and triathlon events in our new economy.


To conclude: A hero today, Alan Greenspan may well be reviled as an architect of disaster tomorrow. And my own reading of his prescriptions, not unlike that of a myopic pharmacist, is certainly open to question. But questions are the stuff of honest debate, are they not? So why not let a brisk educational discussion begin now! No matter how it goes, Ventura County will come out ahead in the long run. And so will its new-economy university.

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