A new study, led by the GSE’s Mike Kirst and Dick Scott in partnership with the Gardner Center and with funding from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, LearningWorks, and the Rosenberg Foundation, examines the changing ecology of higher education. Specifically, the study reveals how the Bay Area’s colleges and universities—including broad-access institutions that accept a majority of the students who apply—balance the twin demands of upholding the academic standards and liberal arts traditions of the past and responding to the demands of a volatile and rapidly changing market economy. Findings from the study will be published in a new book, Higher Education and Silicon Valley: Connected by Conflicted, forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press. The Gardner Center’s Manuelito Biag recently answered a few questions about the study.
How has the higher education landscape changed in the Bay Area? What are the implications of these changes with regards to policy?
The Bay Area has undergone tremendous change since the 1970s, both demographically and economically. The landscape of higher education has also changed dramatically. There are roughly 350 institutions—from public nonprofits to private for-profits—serving a diverse student population from first-generation college students to working adults going back to school to sharpen their skills. Bay Area colleges are facing increasing pressures to uphold traditional academic standards and also respond to the demands of a rapidly changing economy. This is why see a growth in the number of adjunct faculty from industry teaching courses, more vocational and online offerings, and greater efforts on the part of the colleges to create partnerships with local companies. But change happens incrementally in higher education, while the economy is moving very fast. Given these issues and dynamics, leaders need to develop a regional body to help coordinate and address the challenges facing higher education.
How does your research further our understanding of the Bay Area’s higher education ecology?
The Bay Area is not monolithic. Rather, it has distinct sub-regions with their own unique needs, concerns, and characteristics. This is why our research examines how the higher education system and the economy interact in three different geographic clusters: the Greater San Francisco Area (Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo counties); the East Bay (Alameda and Contra Costa counties); and the South Bay (Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties). Across these clusters, we pay close attention to the role and contributions of broad-access colleges, including the community colleges and for-profit schools.
How is your study different from previous work in this area?
Our study differs from earlier work in four ways. First, we examine changes in higher education and the Bay Area economy over a longer period—from the 1970s to the present day. Second, we concentrate on the colleges themselves rather than the students. Third, we consider all types of postsecondary institutions operating within the entire region. Lastly, we adopt an organizational field perspective and consider different organizations involved in governing the behaviors of both the colleges and companies.
When will the book be released?
The book is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2017.