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The California Master Plan: Reducing Competition
Master Plan Provisions for Collaboration: Student Transfer and the Joint Doctorate
Additional Areas of Collaboration
Tidal Wave II: Enrollment Growth and Fiscal Constraint
Closing Observations
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The California Master Plan: Reducing Competition

Our argument is that the structure of California’s state higher education system influences the system’s capacity for competition and collaboration, as well as the likelihood that competition and collaboration occur among its institutions.2We have argued this elsewhere in greater detail (Richardson et al. 1999; Bracco et al. 1999). We are particularly interested in the two traditional policy goals of broad college opportunity and excellence in instruction and research, goals that we assume to be common to all states (National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education 2000). Indeed, Neil J. Smelser has argued that the values of “competitive excellence” and “populist egalitarianism” have worked to legitimize higher education structures in California, noting these to be the state’s cultural version of “the more general American values of achievement and equality of opportunity” (Smelser and Almond 1974, 15). The California Master Plan sought to institutionalize these values. Egalitarian values were served by broadening access to higher education to every high school graduate in the state—primarily through community colleges—and by assuring eligible students of baccalaureate opportunities through transfer. Competitive excellence was addressed by highly selective freshman admissions to public baccalaureate-granting institutions, and by monopolies within public higher education on doctoral and advanced professional education, and on state-supported research.

As the California Master Plan institutionalized values of “populist egalitarianism” and “competitive excellence,” it also limited competition within higher education in the state, through the following structural provisions:

  1. Differentiation of Function. The three public segments were assigned differentiated functions or missions within which to strive for excellence:
    • The University of California (UC), under the jurisdiction of its Board of Regents, was to have particular emphasis on graduate and professional education, with exclusive jurisdiction in the public sector over instruction in law, and over graduate instruction in medicine, dentistry, and veterinary medicine. It would also have sole authority to award doctoral degrees.
    • The state colleges—now the California State University (CSU)— were removed from the jurisdiction of the State Board of Education, and a separate governing board of trustees was established. The colleges’ primary functions were to be undergraduate instruction and graduate instruction through the master’s degree. Doctoral degrees could be offered in collaboration with the University of California, a provision later broadened to include joint degrees with private colleges and universities. Faculty research was authorized if consistent with the primary function of instruction.
    • Junior colleges—now the California Community Colleges— were defined for the first time as part of higher education, and were authorized to offer instruction up to the 14th grade (including courses for transfer to four-year institutions, vocational and technical instruction, and general or liberal arts courses). In 1968, these colleges, retaining their separate district governing boards, were grouped under a statewide segmental coordinating board.
  2. Differential Student Eligibility Standards. Differentiated admissions pools were established for the university and the state university. The university was to select students from the top 12.5% of high school graduates, and the state university from the top one-third. Those not eligible for admission to either as freshmen—two thirds of high school graduates—would be eligible to transfer upon completing two years of community college.
These provisions of the Master Plan explicitly and structurally precluded competition among the segments by differentiating their respective purposes and admissions pools. They incorporate most features of the textbook model of the conventional and expert perspective on statewide planning for higher education as it was envisioned in the 1950 to 1975 era: clear mission differentiation, and plans for increasing capacity based upon these missions and demographic projections. In fact, California carried the “differentiation of function” principle further than any other state, by explicitly defining student eligibility for each segment of public higher education, and by organizing governance of public higher education into three systems based on homogeneous missions and admissions pools.

Yet the Master Plan did not conform to conventional expertise in its provisions for coordination in higher education (Glenny 1959; McConnell 1962). Whereas the Master Plan provided strong structural means for limiting competition, its provisions for coordination were relatively weak from the outset and have remained weak. The main body responsible for implementing coordination—the Coordinating Council for Higher Education (CCHE)—was established as an advisory state agency. Although stronger than the voluntary coordination that it replaced, it did not have the authority of a regulatory agency; for example, it had the power to review proposed new academic programs, but not the power to deny approval. Changes subsequent to its establishment—such as substituting lay appointees for segmental representatives in 1974, broadening its advisory functions, and changing the name to California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC)—did not strengthen the agency.

Through these provisions for limiting competition and encouraging collaboration, the Master Plan created three statewide silos in California higher education. By largely structural means, the Master Plan designated where institutions could not compete (mission, location of campuses, and eligible pools of students). By largely procedural means, it designated where cooperation should or could occur (as we will explore in greater detail later, through transfer and joint doctorates). Yet the creation of a relatively weak coordinating agency to monitor these rules meant that the segmental silos were effectively isolated from one another.

Clark Kerr, president of the University of California at the time of the Master Plan’s formulation, was its principal architect. According to Kerr, the participants in the planning process were engaged in “negotiating a treaty among the constituent parts of higher education in California.” They wanted a “structure for planning” rather than a plan itself, and the Master Plan was really designed so as not to require much competition or cooperation, but rather so that each segment could “focus on its own mission” (Kerr 1992; 2001a; 2001c, pp. 172–190). Over the past 40 years, each segment has focused, we suggest, on its “own mission,” each with separate organizational concerns, for there has been little competition within the state—aside from that inherent in the state budgetary arena. Nor has there been much collaboration.

More than 40 years after the enactment of the Master Plan, the shape of California higher education—its governing and coordinating structures and functions—remains essentially what was contemplated when the legislators and governor approved it. Two major, formal changes—a new community college coordinating board in 1968, and a revised statewide coordinating agency in 1974—have had little impact. The durability of the Master Plan and the success of its implementation are attributable, we believe, to the shared values of California citizens and of the political and higher education leaders who created it.3 Long-standing general consensus has supported the policy goals of broad access and a meritocratic view of excellence, as well as supporting the means to achieve these goals: the institutional structures and relationships embodied in the Master Plan.

As a result, the Master Plan remains the central framework for California higher education. It has been reviewed several times by blue ribbon commissions and legislative committees, and all have recommended that the fundamental elements of the Master Plan be continued. Yet overall, the “iron grip of ‘segmental thinking’” institutionalized by the Master Plan has had mixed results in California. To a remarkable extent, it has afforded order, clarity, and efficiency to public higher education (Pickens 1999, 147). But it has not been as successful in stimulating collaboration. As we argue in the following pages, economic and demographic factors—current and prospective—require that far greater attention be paid to collaboration and cooperation than has been in the past.


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