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Lawmakers: No Master Plan Makeover


By Kim Kowsky '86, M.F.A. '00

Published Apr 1, 2010 8:00 AM

A legislative review of the California Master Plan for Higher Education may give the venerated, 50-year-old document new window dressing, but critics who contend the plan has "outlived its usefulness" shouldn't expect an extreme makeover.

"The purpose, principles and structure of the Master Plan are sound," says California State Assemblyman Ira Ruskin (D-Redwood City), who is co-chairing the 20-member bipartisan and bicameral committee undertaking the legislative review of the plan with State Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Chino). "We need to recommit ourselves to its promise."

The Master Plan, which promised a tuition-free higher education to all California high school graduates, is largely credited with laying the foundation for the state's economic growth and prosperity over the past several decades. A legislative committee has reviewed the Master Plan roughly every 10 years since its inception. The current review will address four main areas: eligibility and access, affordability and financing, accountability and quality, and coordination and efficiency.

Designed by University of California President Clark Kerr and Gov. Pat Brown in 1960, the Master Plan created basic distinctions in the programs offered and types of students served among the three systems of higher education.

UC was to focus on undergraduate and graduate education and research, and would enroll students from the top 12.5 percent of high school graduating classes. CSU would offer an undergraduate education and would enroll the top 33 percent of high school graduates. Community colleges would be open to all levels of students and would provide vocational training as well as a two-year general education that would allow qualified students to transfer to UC.

Although state funding shortfalls have eroded the no-tuition policy, student fees and state financial aid have helped keep the system solvent. But demographic changes have created huge challenges with a high number of high school graduates now entering the community colleges ill-prepared for college-level work. Only one out of four community college students receives a degree or transfers to a UC within six years. And the Public Policy Institute of California estimates that by 2025, the system will produce 1 million fewer graduates than needed to meet demand.

The system was thrown into additional turmoil last year when massive funding cutbacks caused widespread faculty furloughs, employee layoffs, class reductions and substantial fee increases.

While past reviews have suggested improvements, the Master Plan has never carried a legal mandate, leaving some stakeholders skeptical that a revised plan will have much impact on how legislators allocate state dollars.

"There is no way to fulfill the Master Plan with the current financial capacity and structure that California has," Charles B. Reed, chancellor of the California State University system, told the Chronicle for Higher Education last year.

In his remarks to the committee, former UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young M.A. '57, Ph.D. '60 took issue with the idea that the Master Plan has grown outdated in any way, citing instead funding shortfalls and a faltering K-12 system that is producing high school graduates who "are not prepared well to partake of higher education in any of the systems."

"I don't think the major problems that we are confronting today are a result of inadequacies in the Master Plan," Young said.

But UC President Mark G. Yudof, contending that "we have to rethink our education model," described a number of cost-cutting areas the committee could consider, including raising faculty-student ratios, shortening the time it takes for students to earn degrees, cutting down on prerequisites for majors and expanding the number of virtual courses offered.



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