California Higher Education Leaders Seek Update to Dated Master Plan

A recently released news report showed that California is falling short in its efforts to prepare and graduate college students. The report said more must be done to coordinate higher education policy and more collaboration is needed between the governor, legislature, and education leaders.

A pledge was made recently to do just that by the state's three higher education segments.

University of California President Janet Napolitano, Cal State Chancellor Timothy White and community college Chancellor Brice W. Harris agreed on the need to reform and strengthen the state's 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, which set differing goals for each system.

The original plan was seen as a model that would turn out millions of college graduates in California and raise the state's standing as an education and world economic leader, but a report by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Cal State Sacramento shows the higher education system has recently fallen into mediocrity.

The high school graduation rate in California is only 68%, putting it 37th among US states. Researchers also found that more than 60% of graduates do not complete courses that are required to enroll in the state's four year public universities. The state ranks first in returning freshmen, and has a higher-than-average first time student graduation rate, but is among the lowest in the number of credentials and degrees given to undergraduates at public tw- year schools. The report says that things are not likely to improve without a clear plan.

"The analysis is really eye opening in checking the pulse of where we are right now in higher education," said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for College Opportunity, which commissioned the report. "The master plan was revolutionary, innovative and visionary for its time, but it's more than 50 years old and we are a different kind of state, one that's more diverse and that's suffered through an incredible recession that decreased funding for higher education, impacting capacity and the cost for students."

She feels that lawmakers and education leaders need to discuss how to increase capacity and decide how many college graduates the state needs to meet future workforce demands.

A report done by the nonprofit group California Competes said that an oversight body should be created. California is one of a few states that does not have a central panel that helps to identify higher education needs. The proposal calls for the creation of a Higher Education Investment Board that would collect data and help outline possible policy decisions for the legislature, governor and public and private institution leaders. The governor would appoint members, and the board would be financed by fees to colleges, not state general funds.

The timing may be right. California Competes Director Robert Shireman says, "This happened to be very well-timed coming after the regents meeting because these are exactly the issues they were discussing. We're not going to be able to meet the state's needs unless all of the systems are coordinated and work together and connect. They may believe they can coordinate themselves without an entity to help, them but history doesn't suggest that will work very well."

Assembly speaker John A. Perez agrees, saying "This report shines an important light on the need to have a central body whose sole focus is guiding the legislature, governor and our three higher education segments as we plan and build for the future."

02 5, 2014
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