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By Pamela Burdman
I
NTHE LATTERHALF of the 1990s, a series of reports
urged California policymakers to prepare for the imminent
arrival of baby-boomers’ children at the doors of California’s
colleges and universities.The consequences of the predicted
surge in enrollments would be dire if the state was not ready,
said the reports, which bore somber titles like “Breaking the
Social Contract” and “California at the Crossroads.” Another
report referred to a “hurricane” threatening “California’s historic
commitment to college opportunity.” Amid themetaphors, one
took hold as the symbol of the coming generation of college
students: It was Tidal Wave II, coined by Clark Kerr, the architect
of California’s 1960Master Plan for Higher Education.
Some, most notably the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office
(LAO), dismissed the predictions. “I don’t knowwho’s calling it
a tidal wave. It’s a catchy word. But it’s a poor metaphor. A tidal
wave is uncontrollable,” an LAO staffer told the
San Francisco
Chronicle
, accusing higher education leaders of inflating the
projections for their own benefit. “For every student, they hire
faculty, they get money,” he said. In its report, the LAO insisted
that college-going rates of the various ethnic groups would
remain constant. Because Latinos, with historically low college-
going rates, were the fastest-growing segment of the population,
California would see onlymodest enrollment growth—and a
decline in actual participation rates, the agency concluded.
The assumption that those low participation rates could not
be nudged up by public policy actionwas sharply countered by
higher education experts, as was the report’s recommendation
that enrollment be “managed” by increasing fees and tightening
admissions requirements. “Anybody who would say, as amatter
of public policy, that the participation rates among blacks and
Latinos are okay, is not being realistic about the needs of this
state,” noted JerryHayward, then-director of Policy Analysis
for California Education and a retired chancellor of the state’s
community college system. Others warned that a failure to
reduce ethnic gaps in participation rates could leave the state
sitting on a keg of “social dynamite.”
A decade later, the tidal wave had yet to hit shore. By
2005, the year that many of the reports used in their analyses,
California’s public higher education institutions were enrolling
roughly 200,000 students fewer than the higher projections had
suggested. And in early 2008, as the state prepared to address
what a higher education advocate called “one of themost
difficult and contentious budget cycles in the state’s history,” the
accumulation of trends was worrisome:
A sharp drop in the percentage of students going to college
directly after high school.
In 1985, about 62 percent of
high school students went straight to a public institution of
higher education (with themajority going to community
colleges). By 2005, the figure was just 46 percent, according
July 2008
Does California’s Master Plan Still Work?
Separate higher education systems pursue different mandates,
while participation and graduation rates decline
to the California Postsecondary
EducationCommission (CPEC).
The trend is of concern because
direct enrollment is linked to
success in college.
A continued racial gap in both
high school graduation and
college participation.
In 2005,
only 26 percent of Latino ninth-
graders and 29 percent of African
Americans entered college within
four years, compared to 37
percent of whites and 63 percent
of Asians.With Latinos the fastest-
growing population, the pattern is
not a good omen.
Adecline in the state’s overall
education level.
According
to an analysis by theWestern
Interstate Commission for
Higher Education, WICHE, each
successive California generation is less educated than the
preceding generation. While nationally, 25-to-34-year-olds
are better-educated than the 55-to-64-year-old cohort, in
California the opposite is true.The decline looks evenmore
stark when compared with international trends.
“People are having a hard time understanding that
California is not still at the top of the heap,” said JohnDouglass,
an educational historian at UCBerkeley’s Center for Studies in
Higher Education. “Most people have no idea that we have such
lowBA production rates. In the last thirty
years, the state has basically not done
anything innovative to its higher education
system. We’re at the bottomof the barrel,
where we used to always be at the top.”
Averting this particular tidal wave is
not necessarily a good sign, but how to
explain its absence is unclear: Was the
analyst right in denying the imminence
of a crisis? Did actual fee increases and
greater admissions restrictions at the state’s
four-year universities effectively “manage”
enrollments away? Or were the lower
numbers a case of self-fulfilling prophecy,
inwhich the state’s failure to prepare
for escalating enrollments or stimulate
minority college-going effectively curtailed access, as the reports
had warned?
And is the tidal wave’s absence largely responsible for the
Clark Kerr, the first chancellor of the
University of California, Berkeley, and 12th
president of the University of California, was
the architect of California’s 1960 Master
Plan for Higher Education.
Each successive
California generation is
less educated than the
preceding generation,
according to an
analysis by the Western
Interstate Commission
for Higher Education.