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Higher ed leaders aim to reinvigorate Master Plan

higher ed heads

UC President Janet Napolitano, center, addressed the UC Regents on the state's Master Plan for Higher Education. She is flanked by California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris, left, and California State University Chancellor Timothy White, right.

Credit: Robert Durell

Master Plan for Higher Education

California, in 1960, adopted the Master Plan for Higher Education. It outlined distinct missions for the University of California, the California State University System and the California Community Colleges with respect to the students they serve, the educational programs and degrees they offer, and their role in performing research.

Inherent to the Master Plan is the promise that higher education is available to any Californian who wants it. For UC and CSU, this means finding a spot for all California resident students who meet eligibility requirements. For the community colleges, it means finding a place for any California resident who seeks higher education. 

 Leaders of California's three public higher education systems jointly addressed the UC Board of Regents on Wednesday (Jan. 22) and discussed their plans for strengthening implementation of the state's Master Plan for Higher Education.

Enacted in 1960, the Master Plan made California the first state in the nation to promise a place in higher education for anyone who wanted one. It was landmark legislation that has been credited with helping California build a skilled and educated workforce and establish itself as an international powerhouse of publicly funded research and knowledge.

The purpose of the Master Plan remains as relevant today as when it was enacted more than 50 years ago, but California itself is a far different place, UC President Janet Napolitano told the board.

"We must look at the Master Plan today in terms of how we collaborate, how we cooperate.... always with the education of the next generation in mind," she said.

To that end, Napolitano, California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White and California Community College Chancellor Brice W. Harris sketched out a variety of new ways the three systems plan to work together to better serve students.

Among their goals: developing a new student-centered Web portal that makes it easier for community college students to track their academic progress toward being eligible to transfer to a UC or CSU campus.

Although still in the formative stages, the three system leaders envision a shared website that would make the transfer process more transparent — both in terms of which courses any particular students need to transfer to CSU or UC, and what kind of financial aid is available to them.

Napolitano said a "stretch goal" for the effort would be to provide real-time feedback that is tailored to an individual student's academic record. Creating such a system would necessarily be complex, and involve pulling data from multiple systems and jurisdictions.

"It's easier said than done, but I don't think that's an excuse for not doing it," Napolitano said.

The three leaders also plan to intensify their joint outreach to California's K-12 students and their families; and to capture administrative savings by developing shared systems for procurement and other business practices.

Although the three public higher education systems already work together on a variety of shared issues, the kind of close collaboration now under way between the three segments is significant.

All three leaders are relatively new in their positions, and share a commitment to ensuring that all California students know that college is in reach, Harris said.

"Too often, for the economically disadvantaged, college is not seen as in their future," Harris said.

He and the other segment leaders hope to change that thinking by sending a personalized communication to every California seventh-grader and their parents that encourages them to begin planning for college. Families would receive information on financial aid, college eligibility and more, he said.

"We want to make sure all students know they can access higher education in one of our three institutions," Harris said.

White, who attended a community college, transferred to a CSU and earned an advanced degree at UC, called himself a product of the Master Plan.

"Like me, it is fundamentally strong, but a bit tattered around the edges," White said.

He noted that California has changed dramatically since Master Plan was first enacted, both in terms of demographics and finances.

"We have so many students who are first in their families to go to college, so many students from lower socio-economic backgrounds," White said. "To serve California's future and address its problems, a much wider swath of its humanity has to access public higher education."

The three systems can strengthen the Master Plan framework — and funnel more money into delivering a high-quality education to California students — by leveraging the cost-savings from developing shared procurement systems and other business practices, he said.

"It's time to collectively come together," White said. "It's not about us. It's about California — its economy and its society."