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The Challenges Facing California Higher Education: A Memorandum to the Next Governor of California assesses the present condition of higher education policy in California. This report and a companion report on California higher education enrollment projections (Tidal Wave II Revisited) were commissioned by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, and supported with a grant from The James Irvine Foundation.

The National Center was fortunate to enlist David Breneman, the report's author, for this task. Mr. Breneman is University Professor and Dean at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. He is assuredly one of the nation's leaders in experience and thoughtful analyses of higher education policy. Mr. Breneman undertook a similar assessment in California just over three years ago. His report, A State of Emergency? California's Crisis in Higher Education (1995), called attention to a policy crisis in California higher education, one characterized by declining financial support, by rapidly deteriorating educational opportunity, and by a lack of policy leadership in both state government and higher education.

In 1998 Mr. Breneman finds--in sharp contrast to 1995--great consensus about the core issues and problems now facing California higher education. The consensus is reflected in the three major policy reports issued by privately funded independent policy organizations. And he finds that consensus confirmed in his interviews with the present leaders of public and private education. Today, these leaders are seriously engaged, he finds, with substantive issues to a greater extent than previously. In particular they are aware of the necessity of accommodating the educational needs of a rapidly growing, increasingly heterogeneous population of young Californians who are now progressing through the state's elementary and secondary schools.

The central higher education policy issue confronting the state's leaders, Mr. Breneman finds, is reflected in the three major policy reports: California needs to accommodate approximately 500,000 additional students over the next decade. At stake is whether the next generation of California high school graduates will have the opportunities for education and training beyond high school that have been available to current and previous generations. If this commitment is to be maintained into the 21st century, California and its leaders must be prepared to confront the following difficult and complex issues:

  • The current infusion of massive state financial support not withstanding, the state does not have fiscal resources to accommodate the 500,000 additional students that are expected. Traditional solutions derived from the 1960s-building new campuses and escalating costs-simply cannot be sustained over the long term.

  • The highly successful 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education placed primary emphasis on developing three statewide public segments of higher education with rigorous distinctions among them, and between the institutions and the public schools. Mr. Breneman appropriately asks whether this compartmental approach can serve California as well in the future as it did in the past. Should each component of public education continue to focus primarily on its own statewide mission? Or, as he suggests, would California be better served if the present structure were adapted, in whole or in part, to regional approaches, ones that would not rely on altruism alone for collaboration and cooperation across educational institutions.

  • In addressing his report to the next governor, Mr. Breneman highlights the need and opportunity for state leadership in higher education policy. Historically, generous state support for the educational status quo in prosperous times has alternated with drastic cuts in difficult times. This budgetary instability has left the state ill-prepared for the challenges described by Mr. Breneman and by the policy reports, and is a problem which only the governor can address.

California philanthropic organizations supported the three major policy reports described in this report. These reports have identified a public policy agenda and some key ideas for shaping California higher education so that it meets the demands of the next decade and beyond. The improved quality of leadership within higher education is a welcome and necessary condition for addressing the future of educational accessibility and quality in California. But higher education leadership alone is not sufficient. The governor and Legislature must now bring their commitment to resolving the fate of higher education's future. They must come to the table to set the agenda, support needed change and assure public accountability.

The National Center extends its appreciation to David Breneman for yet another important contribution to California higher education. The Center is also indebted to Leobardo Estrada, Gerald Hayward and William Pickens, who reviewed the initial draft of this report and provided helpful suggestions.

Patrick M. Callan
National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education


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© 1998 The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

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