No New University

California’s public higher education system needs innovative solutions to its myriad challenges, but a problematic new university proposed by a state Assembly bill is not the right choice.

The so-called “New University of California” — introduced by Assemblymember Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita — is a bad idea on all fronts. First and foremost, it does nothing to actually address the ailing UC, CSU and community college systems. Instead, it circumvents the real problems public higher education grapples with. If created, the new university would have “no tuition, no faculty, and no bureaucracy” and would offer no instruction — any student who could pass a series of exams would receive a degree.

Sacramento struggles to fully finance the state’s existing higher education institutions; legislators need to focus on supporting those instead of creating a new diversion. While the state is desperately in need of changes to the California Master Plan for Higher Education, this alteration would move the state in the wrong direction.

Even confined to its own merits, the “new” university has far too many flaws to be worth considering. Taking a few tests, even if a student passes with flying colors, is not a proper substitution for a college education. As Wilk — an alumnus of the California State University — should know, college is about much more than the exams students take. It’s about learning from peers and professors, both in the classroom and outside of it.

It’s about the experience. Students enrolled in the university would receive a hollow education based on studying for exams rather than genuine learning.

The university would also be unable to serve its own students well. Even though it may grant full degrees, employers are highly unlikely to view a degree from the New University of California as equivalent to a degree received from any of the other state systems — or any other college anywhere, for that matter. And from an operational standpoint, the university would set students up for failure, because without Wilks’ hated “bureaucracy,” it could not provide students with proper guidance on which courses — or, in this case, exams — to take.

The bill represents an extremely dangerous reimagination of higher education. As California universities gradually incorporate new out-of-the-classroom instruction tools like massive open online courses, they must be careful not to open the door for horrendous ideas like this. Its very name suggests that it is forward-thinking — that the New University of California represents the future of higher education. Sacramento cannot give us reason to believe that might be true.


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