Bowing to resistance from the University of California, the Commission for the Review of the Master Plan for Higher Education has backed down from part of its plan to force the UC system to turn away about 10,000 fully qualified students as part of an effort to bolster the state's community college enrollments.
The plan, which was endorsed by the community colleges but strongly opposed by the University of California, would have limited the university system's freshman and sophomore enrollments to 40% of its undergraduate total. This year, lower classmen constitute 46% of the undergraduate student body.
The proposal called for those students who were eligible for UC but did not get in to be encouraged to enroll at community colleges for their first two years and then transfer to one of the eight undergraduate UC campuses or one of the 19 California State University campuses for their final years of college.
Under a a compromise plan, tentatively accepted by UC and the community colleges and expected to be formally accepted by the commission at its final meeting in July, UC would have until 1996 to bring about a student body balance of 40% freshmen and sophomores and 60% juniors and seniors.
Just how effective the plan will be, however, remains unclear because the actual wording of the proposal has yet to be drafted and approved by the 15-member panel.
Moreover, UC officials said Wednesday that they would not consider themselves bound by the plan unless enough funds were made available by the state to improve the community colleges to the point that high school graduates "voluntarily" decide to attend those colleges for their first two years instead of one of the UC campuses.
The Commission for the Review of the Master Plan has been charged by the Legislature with considering whether major structural or budgetary changes should be made in California's three-tier structure of public higher education: the UC system, the Cal State system and the community colleges.
The commission's recommendations are not binding. If any or all of the state's college and university systems decide to reject the commission's proposals, new legislation would have to be enacted to force them to do so. The joint legislative panel on higher education, which is also considering structural and budgetary changes in the state's colleges and universities, is not expected to take up the commission's recommendations until after the panel completes its work in July.
In the meantime, both the commission and the campus representatives contend they have reached a "gentlemen's agreement" on the dispute over UC and community college enrollments.
For a variety of reasons, UC's enrollment has skyrocketed over the last seven years. Meanwhile, there has been a steady decline at the community colleges in the number of transfer candidates--students who enroll at a community college for their freshmen and sophomore years with the intention of transferring to a university for the remainder of their education.
To try to reverse these trends, the commission proposed limiting UC's enrollment. No such limitation has been necessary for the Cal State system, because it has remained well within the 40%-60% ratio.
UC objected to the plan on several grounds. To limit UC's enrollment, they argued, would not guarantee any bolstering of the community colleges' enrollments.
Moreover, they said, the plan would exacerbate already strained race relations within UC because it would force the university to select which students it wanted from those who had been determined by state law to be eligible. Since many minority students tend to be on the borderline of admissibility, UC would have to either reduce its minority enrollment or make explicit its desire to give special treatment to minority applicants.
"Either way," UC President David P. Gardner said recently, "we would be making a major public policy change while ducking a full public debate over the issue."