Master Plan no longer reflects California needs, according to report

State Hornet Staff

The Master Plan vision for California higher education is no longer meeting student and statewide needs half a century after it was introduced, according to an Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy report.

The 1960 Master Plan sought to provide accessibility, affordability and quality education for students through the California State University, University of California and California Community College systems. Each institution is instrumental in key functions serving to achieve the Master Plan’s vision.

“At that time it was a model for the rest of the nation, but now, half a century later, it is not keeping pace with the needs of students or employers,” said Sacramento State Provost Frederika Harmsen.

Under the Master Plan, the UC system’s primary functions include academic research and professional education, while the CSU focuses on undergraduate education and teacher training and the community colleges provides vocational training and two-year degrees.

“Many of our students at Sac State are earning a four-year degree in a five or six year process,” Harmsen said. “They are coming out with a hefty debt, which didn’t happen back in the 1960s. So the model needs updating.”  

About 73 percent of California’s population starts in the community college system, compared to the national average of 52 percent, according to the March 2014 IHELP report.

“We have restricted entry into four-year public universities by the master plan’s requirement that you are not eligible to apply or enroll directly out of high school unless you are in the top one-third of the graduating class,” said Nancy Shulock, IHELP institute executive director.

Shulock said California needs more trade technical education, but the mission statements for California Community Colleges do not reflect technical trade values.  

There are 22 states nationwide that have a system of trade technical colleges, while California currently has one: Los Angeles Trade Technical College.

“We built this system to educate most of our students in the community colleges, and then we don’t fund the community colleges adequately to play that role, and we don’t provide the state policy leadership to coordinate a system that is built on necessary coordination,” Shulock said.

But there is a systemwide approach to combat the barriers as well as one Sac State is focusing on.

At the systemwide level, three new leaders have been chosen within the last 18 months, to strengthen the implementation of the Master Plan and include: California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris, CSU Chancellor Timothy White and UC President Janet Napolitano.

California Community Colleges Vice Chancellor for Communications Paul Feist said the three segment leaders are focused on improving transfer from community colleges to the UC and CSUs and also ways to reach out to high school students.

“The three segment leaders are focused on doing more outreach to younger students in middle school and high school to let them know that college education is possible for them,” Feist said.

To help streamline the transfer process SB 1440, a law passed in 2012, requires California community colleges to grant an associate degree to transfer students who have met the general education and major requirements. Once eligible, the student can transfer to a California State University as a junior.

“What’s really important is to target resources in ways that will improve higher education system’s performance in meeting our state educational workforce needs,” Harmsen said.

According to previous reports, the state of California will have one million fewer college educated workers than the economy will require by 2025.

Utilizing private institutions to produce vocational degrees as well as increasing graduation rates for both California Community Colleges and California State University will set the state on the path to meeting projected workforce needs, according to the IHELP report.

Sen. Marty Block authored a bill allowing community colleges to grant four-year degrees under a pilot program. He said it is a step in the right direction toward combating some of the barriers the higher education Master Plan is facing today.

“I think that Senate Bill 850 doesn’t really change the intent of the Master Plan, it just updates it into the 21st century,” Block said. “It allows 15 community colleges around the state to offer one bachelors degree each, in an area where there is high workforce need or there are jobs waiting for employees.”