New Standards on Campus


California’s master plan for higher education set goals and boundaries for its public universities and community colleges 25 years ago. A major reassessment of that plan is now in progress, and the higher-education institutions are maneuvering for any changes that they want to improve their own positions. Two recent decisions by California State University have a direct effect on that system’s role within the overall master plan. One has definite merit; the other is definitely suspect.

First, the Cal State trustees approved a new list of courses that students must take in high school before they can enroll as freshmen in 1988. The move finally and formally recognizes that a successful college education needs a solid base.

The list includes four years of English, three of mathematics, one of laboratory science, one of U.S. history and government, two of foreign language, one of visual and performing arts, and three of electives selected from these subjects. That is more than it takes to get a high-school diploma, but then getting into a university should be harder than graduating from high school. To enter the Cal State system, students already must also be in the top third of their high-school class.


But Cal State’s figures show that, except for Asians, minority students today are less likely to be prepared for the higher standards than are whites. For example, in analyzing the applications for placement in this fall’s freshman class, Cal State found that 72.2% of all applicants had already taken three years of mathematics and thus would already meet the future admission requirements. For black applicants the figure was 57%, for Latinos 63.3%.

So the new list means that the state Department of Education must work with high schools to ensure that the full complement of courses is available everywhere so that minority students will not suffer simply because their schools are not up to standard.

For the interim, the Cal State trustees authorized “conditional admissions” for students who lack one or more of the required subjects. The trustees still must approve regulations to govern these admissions; certainly chief among them should be a rule governing the percentage of any class that can be admitted conditionally. There should be some ceiling, and there should be a timetable to phase out such admissions.

Raising admission standards is one step toward correcting this alarming statistic: Fewer than one in five students completes a Cal State degree in five years, and only one in eight minority students. But it’s not the only answer. Recruiters must look beyond grade averages and test scores and pay more attention to whether students can write literate paragraphs and grasp what they read.

Cal State’s graduation rates are also affected by the preparation that transfer students have received. Juan Lara, a UCLA dean, pointed out recently that many of Cal State’s juniors and seniors are community-college transfers, so strengthening high-school curricula will not solve the whole problem. Students also must have better preparation in community colleges, he added.

The trustees have taken a key step, however. Now Cal State, the high schools of California and state officials must do their part to see that the admission standards provide a help and not a hindrance to aspiring university students.


The Cal State trustees also want to offer a doctoral degree in educational administration. Under the master plan, only the University of California offers doctorates. Most UC doctorates in education involve research rather than administration; Cal State officials argue that there is a large unmet need for the more practical educational administration degree to help train better principals and school superintendents.

The Legislature, which must approve any changes in the master plan, should look skeptically at this proposal. Certainly principals and superintendents need effective management skills, but shouldn’t the Ph.D. remain a research degree, not a job-training program? If there does prove a valid educational purpose for this doctorate, the UC system should expand its offerings, make its programs flexible enough for part-time students to enroll while they are working, and spread the degree programs to UC campuses around the state so that they are more accessible to more students.

Cal State’s mission is undergraduate education as well as teacher preparation. That mission is critically important to California, and worth Cal State’s undivided attention.