Despite significant changes in the state’s finances over the years, the University of California is still tied to the guidance of a half-century old blueprint: the California Master Plan for Higher Education.
The plan was considered groundbreaking when it was first approved by the UC Board of Regents and the state in 1960, and it plays into many talks about the UC’s future. Those frustrated with the University’s direction often say the UC no longer adheres to the Plan’s main principles: access, affordability and quality in higher education.
Budget problems make it difficult, if not impossible, for the UC to operate in alignment with the Master Plan. It’s high time for the Master Plan to be adapted to account for California’s current budgetary situation.
The Master Plan defines roles for the state’s three higher education systems: community colleges, the California State University and the UC. The plan also establishes that these three systems together should admit all qualified state students. Under the plan, the UC’s mission is to serve as an academic research institution that admits students from the top one-eighth of the state high school graduating class.
When the Master Plan was written, the state economy was doing well and schools had room to grow, which is no longer the case. Additionally, structural changes to state spending have taken place since the plan was first developed ““ for example, because of laws passed after 1970, the state now spends a large chunk of the general fund on K-12 education.
Currently, the plan’s vision for higher education in California is problematic, given declining state support for higher education. While the plan indicates all eligible students should be able to attend a state school, the funding needed to provide universal access to colleges is not there anymore. Furthermore, tuition increases shut out some eligible students because of an inability to pay.
In his remaining two years in office, Gov. Jerry Brown should lead the way in forming a new plan for the UC. Brown holds a unique position as the state’s leader ““ he proposes a budget for higher education each year and changes to the Master Plan would need an appropriate amount of state funding.
There are many solutions that could go into the revision. For instance, experts have proposed that the Master Plan should set goals for transfer rates between community colleges and the UC or CSU, and emphasize completion rates.
In the last 50 years, California has changed and with it, so has its higher education system.
It’s irrational for the state to operate in the past, but without a revised Master Plan for Higher Education, that is exactly what it is doing.