Enter Daniel Greenstein

Enter Daniel Greenstein

The incoming chancellor of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education says colleges and universities must be judged by their outcomes.

Well, get out of town! That no-brainer piece of wisdom came four years ago from Daniel Greenstein in an op-ed in U.S. News & World Report. And by that standard – which some public educators sadly might certainly find novel – Greenstein has his work cut out for himself.

The State System this week named the former director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Post-Secondary Success Strategy to lead the system’s 14 universities. Prior that, he was a senior administrator in the University of California System.

Greenstein will start work Sept. 4 and be paid $380,000.

That’s a pretty hefty payday for a system whose advocates regularly complain is being shortchanged by taxpayers – and for a fella, as the Post-Gazette notes, who never has overseen a university system or campus.

The newspaper also reminds that the State System chancellor is the highest paid official in Pennsylvania state government.

And that same op-ed raises at least one red flag as to what Greenstein might bring to the State System. To wit, one of his cautions to those in higher education is to be “beware of unintended consequences.”

What’s wrong with that? Read on.

“State and federal data and accountability measures must not create incentives that end up impeding, not accelerating, success for more students.”

  1. So far, so good – still. But, wait for it …

“For example,” Greenstein wrote in July 2014, “more than half of states are implementing or considering so-called outcomes-based funding that rewards colleges for improved graduation rates. When this does not take into account the kinds of students enrolled, these policies can drive greater selectivity and exacerbate the already yawning achievement gap between rich and poor.”

But the flip side of this coin is, as State System data show – and as repeatedly documented by the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (currently in Special Policy Brief Vol. 18, No. 20) – that lack of selectivity also can have unintended consequences.

Namely, those would be lower entrance requirements that admit students without the academic wherewithal to succeed in college-level studies.

That, in turn, leads to poor retention rates and, thus, lower graduation rates.

Or, perhaps, it leads to less academic rigor to boost graduation rates.

Either way, that kind of climate serves neither students nor taxpayers.

That said, and to be fair, Greenstein also offered this in the same op-ed:

“Higher education leaders know they cannot ignore growing demands from policymakers, employers and families who want to know if students are getting a good return on investment. Public confidence in the value of higher education needs to be rebuilt and better information, measurement and transparency is an important step.”

Indeed, it is. And as Allegheny Institute President Jake Haulk often has said, part of that process involves loosening the stranglehold that organized labor has had and, sans, state legislative action, will continue to have on State System faculty.

That means revoking their right to strike and, if faculty layoffs are required, doing so not based on seniority but on performance, he stresses.

Whether Daniel Greenstein is, as one elected official put it, “jumping on the Titanic right before it goes down, or, as State System Board of Governors Chairwoman Cynthia Shapira put it, is a game-changing “bold and historic statement” for the future best serving the needs of students and the commonwealth, remains to be seen.

But what clearly can be seen now is that things must change at the State System. For unchanged, the only thing served will be ignorance and failure.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).