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of new students. So they responded by creating an elite campus
inMerced, serving an enrollment of only a few thousand for the
foreseeable future, and a specialized campus inMonterey Bay. It
didn’t seem tome to be critical to the state’s most pressing needs.
If you were to have a good policy analyst from themoon come
down, they would take a look and say there is not a heck of a lot
that has changed over the last ten years.”
In addition to the two campuses cited by Longanecker—UC’s
Merced campus andCal StateMonterey Bay (which opened in
1994)—Cal State has added its Channel Islands campus, and four
community colleges have opened. To serve an influx of 400,000
students over a decade, the state has added seven campuses—
plus a series of satellite campuses and off-campus centers.
The absent sense of urgencymay be partly attributable to the
fact that the trends are not clearly visible in indicators that seem
important. As Longanecker noted in a presentation to CPEC
commissioners in September 2007, “You’re still third on the New
Economy Index; you’re still the 12th wealthiest economy. One of
the reasons we see the Southmakingmore progress with higher
education is because they see themselves as distressed and the
rest of us don’t.”
National comparisons based on federally collected data
are also confounding:They showCalifornia ranking among
the top dozen states in graduation rates at both two- and
four-year institutions. But those figures do not account for
two factors: First, a smaller proportion of students attend four-
year universities, making the state highly dependent on the
volume and success of community college transfer students to
boost baccalaureate production. In California, 46 percent of
postsecondary enrollments are at community colleges (when
private institutions are included), almost double the national
median of 25 percent. Only two other states enroll anywhere
close to California’s share (Wyoming andWashington, with 47
and 46 percent, respectively). Secondly, the statistics typically
don’t include part-time students, who complete college at much
lower rates, and who account for a far greater proportion of
students in California than in the rest of the country.This is
particularly true at community colleges, where 70 percent of
California students attend part-time, compared with 58 percent
nationally.
Given California’s larger community college enrollment,
these factors mean that a significant proportion of California
students are not accounted for in federally tracked graduation
rates.
For example, for its four-year universities, federal statistics
showCalifornia with a six-year graduation rate of 62.5 percent,
well above the national average of 56.4 percent in 2006.
According to numbers provided by the systems, UC’s six-year
graduation rate was 80.4 percent while Cal State’s was just 47.8
percent. In addition, both state and federal data show that these
rates have improved noticeably over the last decade. On national
comparisons of three-year graduation rates for community
colleges, California ranks third with a 46.3 percent graduation
rate. But when part-time students are included, other analysts
have found that roughly 25 percent of students seeking to
transfer or complete a degree or certificate do so within six years
of enrolling.
Actual transfer rates depend on the denominator that is
chosen: In a 2007 study, MPRAssociates found that for the
2000 entering class, among students who had completed any
transferable classes, six percent transferred toUC and 11 percent
to Cal State. Of those students who had reached “college pathway
status,” whichmeans that they had completed 12 units, six
percent transferred toUC and 16 percent to Cal State. Using a
narrower denominator—those students who had completed
transfer requirements—16 percent transferred toUC and 45
percent to Cal State. Another seven percent went to private or
out-of-state institutions.
Another obstacle to advancing a higher education policy
agenda is that when policy discussions do center around
the failures of the state’s education system, they invariably
concentrate on the poor performance of the state’s K–12
schools. But while California spends less than other states on
K–12 schools and gets worse results, the trend is different with
higher education, where California, by some measures, spends
more than other states. For each bachelor’s degree produced,
California spends $73,000, far more than the national average
of $63,000, according to the Public Policy Institute of California
(PPIC).
The statistics do not seem to have confused the public,
however. In a recent statewide survey, a perception of dwindling
postsecondary opportunity was a strong theme: 65 percent of
Californians (up from48 percent in 2000) said that many who
are qualified to go to college don’t have the opportunity.That
is particularly problematic when nearly two-thirds of those
surveyed said a college education is necessary to succeed in
today’s economy. “This makes for a high-anxiety issue,” noted
Mark Baldassare, president of PPIC, in releasing the poll. “People
are saying that the very thing they need to be successful, that
their children need to be successful, and that the state needs to be
successful, may not be attainable.”
For the failure to tackle these trends, some
analysts fault the very durability of theMaster
Plan, saying that devotion to it may explain
why the state’s leadership has not come to terms
with serious threats to the performance of
higher education in California. Because of the
strength of the individual segments, it is harder
for policymakers to see the forest (the needs of
the state and its students) for the trees (three
powerful public higher education segments).
Despite rapidly changing demographics,
there is no systemof clear accountability for
longitudinal outcomes.
“The structures put in place in 1960 are overwhelmed by
today’s issues,” wrote Nancy Shulock, director of the Sacramento
State University Institute for Higher Education Leadership&
Policy, in 2004. “In 1960 our public colleges and universities
served a small and homogeneous portion of the young adult
population. Today’s public colleges and universities must serve
a large and diverse population of students whose demographic
characteristics and attendance patterns are profoundly different
than in 1960. And theymust do so within amore competitive
environment—both with respect to other postsecondary
institutions and other demands on public resources.”
In a fairly damning 2004 assessment of theMaster Plan, Jeff
Lustig, a government professor at Sacramento State, wrote, “That
a state with 20million residents and nine public Ph.D.-granting
California’s biggest
challenges have
not been the focus
of concerted
attention, let alone
a state-level policy
response.