Executive Summary
California: The Changing Context
Tidal Wave II Revisited
The Original Projections
The 1994 Projections vs.Today's Reality
Accounting for the Growth
Updated Projections
How the Cohorts Have Changed
Is This a Tidal Wave?
Improving Projections
About the National Center

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In 1995, the California Higher Education Policy Center asked us to serve as an expert panel to review and evaluate the several conflicting California higher education enrollment projections that were then extant. Our purpose was to recommend to the Center the most plausible forecast of future demand for undergraduate education. We adopted and explicitly stated a basic assumption: we would favor a set of assumptions that most clearly identified the level of educational service needed to meet the goals of California's landmark 1960 Master Plan. The Master Plan had as a basic tenet a commitment that there would be a place in a state college or university for every qualified student. We believed then, and reaffirm now, that higher education planners should base policy recommendations on projections that reflect a continuing commitment to access, broadly conceived. This is not a trivial point, since such assumptions, as we pointed out in our earlier paper, drive the enrollment projections. Having clearly stated our preferences, we were also pointedly aware of the condition of the California economy at the time, for we had seen, first-hand, severe reductions in access: meteoric rises in fees, slashes in course offerings, dramatic declines in enrollments (particularly in the community colleges). In light of California's economic conditions in 1995, we also sought the most plausible estimate that was consistent with the reductions of the prior five years yet that did not lock in place a set of assumptions that would fail to accommodate access in the future. We determined that if the economy stayed in the doldrums or continued to worsen, then this second, lower threshold might be closer to reality.

It bears repeating that the panel did not find acceptable:

any set of forecasts that assume unalterable supply constraints in the educational delivery system or priorities set by the state's public colleges and universities. We view any set of assumptions which would exclude hundreds of thousands of qualified young Californians from higher education to be morally, politically and economically unacceptable.1

We collected every recent enrollment projection from as many sources as we knew (nine in all), interviewed those responsible for the projections, conferred amongst ourselves and with others, and concluded that the baseline enrollment projections of the California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) more closely matched our more optimistic scenario.2 CPEC's low alternative projection more nearly satisfied our second set of circumstances.


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© 1998 The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

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