This paper reviews four major policy proposals for California higher education
and describes the results of interviews with more than 30 California higher education
and policy leaders. It concludes that the next governor should give serious consideration
to exploring a new Master Plan for Higher Education.
Response to a Policy Vacuum: Four Policy Reports. The economic recession
of the early 1990s highlighted the fragile nature of California's commitment to college
opportunity. Absent clear state policy guidance, institutional response to financial
stress was fragmented and ad hoc. More than 200,000 prospective, qualified students
were turned away; college enrollment rates of high school graduates dropped below
the national average. Moreover, inadequate response to the immediate crisis revealed
total lack of state or institutional planning for dramatically increased enrollment
pressures over the next two decades. Four policy reports have addressed higher education's
problematic future: Shared Responsibility (California Higher Education Policy Center,
1996); Breaking the Social Contract (RAND, 1997); A State of Learning (California
Citizens Commission on Higher Education, 1998); and California at the Crossroads
(California Education Roundtable, 1998).
What Lies Ahead? All four reports accept the consensus that approximately
500,000 additional students can be expected in California higher education by 2005.
Although institutional leaders (in California at the Crossroads) assume that financial
resources to accommodate these additional students will be forthcoming, the other
three reports do not. These three project inadequate resources if business-as-usual
fiscal and educational practices continue.
Five Broad Themes. All four reports focus on five broad themes as strategies
for the future: budgetary stability, rational student charges, productivity increases,
governance changes, and improved linkages to K-12 education. The paper details the
similarities and differences among the reports.
Interviews with State Policy Leaders. The policy leaders who were interviewed
believe that one or more of the reports had considerable impact on their thinking.
The interviews indicated that these leaders would be eager to work with the next
governor on the Tidal Wave II agenda, and that they would be guided in part by the
recommendations and findings of these four reports. In particular, the concept embodied
in the title of Shared Responsibility seems to have been influential-that is, that
responsibility for providing access should be shared among the state, students and
families, and institutions. Aside from their views on the four reports, the leaders
of the three public segments are taking steps to prepare their respective systems
for the future; the new governor should encourage their initiatives.
Conclusion: A New Master Plan? The next governor has been provided with
a valuable resource of analysis and ideas, and it would be a loss to all if these
studies were ignored. In particular, with a growing consensus on the problems and
the solutions, strong leadership from the next governor is not only essential, but
likely to prove successful as well. All four reports express concern about linkages,
collaborations, and other informal relationships among colleges and between the colleges
and the public schools. Several informal collaborations exist, but K-12 education
largely operates in a different world than higher education. Within higher education
itself, the three public systems currently function as independent silos. The reality
is that the financial, structural, and policy divisions separating K-12 from higher
education no longer make sense. Nor do similar divisions separating those public
colleges and universities that are in close geographic proximity to each other. The
time appears ripe for a new Master Plan, one that would: (1) replace emphasis on
the distinguishing characteristics of the three public segments with concern for
regional cooperation and organization, and (2) include K-12 education within its
scope as a full partner. This is not to argue that each segment should lose its distinctive
functions, but rather that a regional focus and inclusion of K-12 education were
incipient-but nevertheless strong-themes in both the reports and the interviews.
By endorsing explorations in this vein, enormous energies might be released, and
California once again could become the education leader among the states.