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Report calls for reform in state's higher education master plan

California’s Master Plan for Higher Education is sorely inadequate for meeting the needs of students and employers here, according to educational researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

Their report, to be issued Tuesday, criticized what seemed to its authors to be disorganized and uncoordinated financing, tuition and aid policies at UC, Cal State and community colleges. Community college students find too many roadblocks in their efforts to transfer to a Cal State or UC, the study said.

And career-technical training is underfunded and often marginalized at community colleges, said the report by the Institute for Research on Higher Education at Penn’s Graduate School of Education.

“If current trends continue, the state will experience severe shortfalls in the number of people with the workforce certificates and degrees necessary to ensure prosperity and social mobility for the majority of Californians,” the report said.

The sheer size of California’s population and its influential role in the nation’s economy make reform of its higher education policies a national issue, according to University of Pennsylvania education professor Joni Finney, the lead author who oversaw a group of graduate students researching the study.

“From Master Plan to Mediocrity: Higher Education Performance and Policy in California” does not offer specific suggestions on ways to fix the system of public colleges and universities. But it lays out guidelines such as developing predictable tuition levels that would not swing from huge increases to freezes and back again, and making the pathway for transferring to universities more understandable for community college students.

The state’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education established different roles and student enrollment criteria for each of the three sectors, such as reserving most doctoral level and professional education for UC and allowing open access to community colleges. Although it was revered for decades as pushing California schools ahead of many other states, recently officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown, have said it needs updating. Brown's father, then-Gov. Edmund "Pat" Brown, helped form the plan.

Finney, in an interview, said the master plan now “is really inhibiting the progress of the state.” The plan succeeded very well in establishing new colleges and universities and expanding their capacity for the baby boom era, but now it is time to reform it “for a very different time, different needs and very different people,” she said.


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