Gov. Jerry Brown, who in his last two terms has pushed, often unsuccessfully, to reshape the state's expansive higher education system, on Wednesday suggested that California universities should be more like Chipotle.
Addressing the California Chamber of Commerce host breakfast for the final time as governor, Brown launched into an extended riff about the fast casual Mexican food chain, noting that Chipotle announced this week it is moving its headquarters to California and expressing admiration for its cheap burrito bowls.
"What I like about Chipotle is the limited menu. You stand in the line, get either brown rice or white rice, black beans or pinto beans," Brown said. "You put a little cheese, a little this, a little that, and you're out of there. I think that's a model some of our universities need to follow."
Brown has repeatedly prodded the state's public universities, particularly California State University, to improve their graduation rates. He said Wednesday that if they adopted a "limited-menu concept, everyone would graduate on time."
"They have so damn many courses because all these professors want to teach one of their pet little projects, but then you get thousands and thousands of courses, and then the basic courses aren't available. It takes kids six years instead of four years," Brown said.
"I know that's not politically correct, or intellectually correct, because there's so much to learn," he added. "But you don't learn it all in college. You learn most of it after you leave. So, get a good basic education in whatever field you try to do it in and get out of there."
Among the ideas Brown has previously floated to speed up a college education, and reduce the universities' operating expenses, are three-year degree tracks at the University of California and expanded online classes at CSU. After launching with much fanfare in 2013, a pilot program for the latter was canceled because of dismal early results.
UC and CSU officials counter that their challenges are the result of declining state funding, which has not kept pace with rapid enrollment growth, often at the behest of Brown and the Legislature. They are lobbying this year for hundreds of millions of dollars more than Brown offered in his budget proposal, arguing that the money is needed in part to add more classes.
But Brown has expressed little interest so far in their request, telling the universities to instead "live within their means." It's an attitude that traces back to his first governorship four decades ago, when he told UC professors they should derive "psychic income" from their service rather than pushing for raises.
While lawmakers this week put larger funding increases in their budget plans for UC and CSU, Brown on Wednesday declined to discuss whether he would consider them.
"No comment," he said following the CalChamber breakfast. "Budgets will be going on all next month."
Brown's higher education focus this year has been a proposed restructuring of community college funding, based in part on student performance, and his plans for a new online community college.