Despite what might be said while discussing today’s current political climate, higher education does not exist in a bubble. Higher education is twisted and pulled by a variety of local issues that play out in including the economy, housing, transportation and the communities it serves.
Nothing is a better example, Stanford professor emeritus of education Michael Krist argues, than the San Francisco Bay Area. In Higher Education and Silicon Valley (Johns Hopkins University Press), Krist and his co-authors examine the ways that academe — built on tradition and structure — and the local economy — built on “disruption” and innovation — are “connected and conflicted.”
“The Bay Area has so much need for re-skilling for people who already a sound postsecondary education,” Krist said. “These are adults, 30 and above, and as the economy changes, they need to learn new things.”
“Most students go to school, including adults, in their geographic region,” he said. “The regional focus is really an overlooked area of study.”
The book lays out many of Silicon Valley’s and the Bay Area’s connections to higher education. Human capital has always been vital to the region: The area has served as a hub for the defense industry, then evolved into a mecca for hardware and circuit technology, followed becoming the center for industries related to personal computing, the internet and social media.
All of those industries need an educated workforce, along with educated lawyers and consultants to needed all the indirect business matters tied to that economy. At the same time, Bay Area business trends don’t always value what colleges — essential to those business’ success — value, and neither does the state of California.
“Colleges stress academic values, the preservation of existing knowledge, and no not accommodate change easily,” the authors write. “The Silicon Valley economy is subject to rapid change, both in terms of what types of industries dominate and what kinds of knowledge and skills are required.”
The gulfs in those value systems go on to manifest themselves in the real world. As spending on public colleges has stalled, and new public colleges aren’t likely to be build any time soon, Corporate colleges, private for-profit institutions, and short-term boot camps — such as coding boot camps — have filled in the gaps as the demand for education grows.
“They’re going to have to fill these gaps. We’re not going to build a University of California or Cal State here soon, there’s no plan to do that,” Krist said. “It gives you an idea of the nature of this problem.”
As it sits, Krist and his colleagues point out, understanding those private institutions can be difficult. Digging through data, both through the state and different higher education organizations, doesn’t always paint accurate an accurate picture. For-profit entities, the book notes,are licensed and overseen by the California State Department of Consumer Affairs. Not only are these institutions not listed in education data, but their education quality isn’t examined by their regulatory agency since it falls under the department of commerce, creating an unregulated education shadow economy of sorts.
“California and the Bay Area have no policy for non-government, private education,” Krist said. “One of the things we call for is better understanding what’s going on in private education.”
To be fair, not all private solutions are as hard to trace or measure: Northeastern University and Carnegie Mellon University have also established Bay Area campuses in an effort to both tap into their students’ demand who want to travel closer to the action, and to pick up those who are already there.
And just as these private solutions are hard to trace and measure, they don’t serve everyone, either. And if the state doesn’t step in to fill those gaps either, it means more headaches for a region plagued by housing crises and long commutes.
The Bay Area has more than 7 million people, Krist said, but only has three traditional, four-year state universities, “located in old areas that are very hard to get to, transportation-wise” — San Francisco State University, San Jose State University and California State University at East Bay.
“If we had a state of 7.3 million people, would you have three institutions like that? We have Contra Costa County, with over a million people, with no comprehensive, four-year public university,” Krist said, although he emphasized that community colleges and other shorter-term higher education often don’t receive adequate attention either.
But the book isn’t intended to be bleak, however — it’s intended to serve as a jumping off point, for more research and more policy leadership for finding solutions for higher education, whether private or public, at a comprehensive, regional level.
Krist pointed to Pennsylvania’s system of regional campuses, updating California’s master plan for higher education — which was crafted in the 1960s — and considering the ever-changing workplace qualifications of Bay Area residents as potential starting points for the discussion.
“This is a call for recognition, and getting our regional act together,” Krist said.