Executive Summary
The Early 1990's
Current Recovery
What Lies Ahead?
Proposed Solutions
Findings from Interviews
Concluding Thoughts
About the National Center

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The Early 1990's

The first half of this decade was a bad time in California, as the economy declined, employment fell, social services were cut, and the quality of life for many citizens diminished. Fortunately, a resurgent economy is making it possible to repair much of the earlier damage, and the Golden State is on the move again. This report takes a look at just one area of public activity, higher education, which experienced the losses of the early 1990s as severely as any area of civic life. As the resurgence of the California economy makes clear, advanced education and research are at the core of modern economic development. Citizens who fail to attain higher education in a knowledge-based economy increasingly run the risk of being left behind. These facts alone make the strength and reach of higher education a concern for all Californians, and particularly for the next governor, for whom education must rate high on the priority list.

  Figure 1

Figure 1: Click for larger image

Because of the growing importance of education, several private foundations have spent generously in recent years to support research and prepare policy proposals for California higher education.1 The primary products of this effort include: 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).2 This report is not a further addition to that list; instead, I have been asked to review the several reports, compare their analyses and recommendations, and provide a brief summary of key findings and points of agreement and disagreement. In addition, during July and August, 1998, I interviewed more than 30 leaders in California, seeking their views on issues facing the state and on the challenges the next governor will face in crafting an effective policy for higher education.3 As we shall see, the reports share a common assessment of the challenges ahead, and although they differ on the details of their recommendations, they are generally closer together than they are apart. As such, 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 also more likely to prove successful.

The Early 1990s
Shared Responsibility summarizes the bad outcomes of the early 1990s in relation to California higher education: Large cuts in appropriations to higher education institutions and to student financial aid, sharply increased student tuition charges, large reductions in total enrollments, huge growth in student loans, and a policy vacuum within the state toward higher education.

  • State and local revenues supporting public institutions dropped from $6.74 billion in 1990 to $6.24 billion in 1994, a decline of 7% before inflation (see Figure 1). From fall 1991 to fall 1992, the budget for the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) dropped by 10%.
  • Enrollments plummeted by more than 200,000 students, and enrollment rates of California high school graduates dropped from over 60% in the late 1980s to about 55% in 1996, lower than the national average (see Figure 2).
  • Student charges at UC campuses jumped by more than 100% from 1990 to 1993, and sizable increases occurred in the other two public segments as well (see Figure 3).
  • Student borrowing increased by 93.5% between 1990 and 1993, a more rapid rate than for the nation as a whole.4

By referring to a state policy vacuum, the California Higher Education Policy Center was highlighting the fact that during these lean years budgetary problems drove all decisions, and was expressing concern that the Master Plan's commitment of access to higher education was being abandoned. Furthermore, the policy center emphasized that a huge projected growth in future enrollments, known as Tidal Wave II, was fast approaching without any state plan for handling it. These were, indeed, the bad old days.


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© 1998 The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

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