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Steps for Higher Education

A review of the state’s master plan for higher education concluded that California can remain a leader only if it ensures that 1) all its qualified students can be accommodated on the state’s campuses and 2) those qualified students include many more blacks and Latinos. The bipartisan legislative committee’s report shows that politicians can generally agree on sensitive subjects; the trick will be translating that agreement into action. The Joint Committee for Review of the Master Plan for Higher Education report is part of a process that has been going on for five years. The state has been re-examining its system of community colleges, the California State University, the University of California and private institutions. It has already led the Legislature to pass and the governor to sign, but not yet fund, reforms in community college financing and teaching.

The first part of this report focuses intensely on broadening the ethnic makeup of California’s campuses. Fewer than 900 black high school graduates were eligible for the University of California in 1986. Only 674 blacks and Latinos transferred from the 106 community colleges into UC. Only 4,468 blacks and Latinos were among 27,761 transfers into the Cal State system.

Students must be helped at every step of their education so that they can aspire to attend college, then qualify for admission and pay the bills, the legislators suggest. The panel especially wants UC to accept broader responsibility to work more closely with the public schools, aggressively recruit minority students and faculty and do more to make them feel comfortable on their campuses. In turn, these schools must be given the money to do this expensive job as well as to provide larger financial aid grants to more students to reduce their current debt-inducing reliance on loans.

The legislators decided to temporarily dodge the issue of how many campuses UC and Cal State will need to handle as many as 150,000 more students by 2005. Both Republicans and Democrats on the panel agreed the state should guarantee that every student who qualifies for UC and Cal State gets to go there. The students may not get their first choice of campus or major. And once the four-year institutions and community colleges work out more compatible courses and transfer arrangements--as the legislators say they must--then more students may elect to start higher education at a two-year campus. But the panel clearly says these students should be entitled to go to the higher education system for which they qualify.

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The legislators’ most controversial but important recommendations may prove to be those requiring students to master a foreign language and take an ethnic studies course. Command of a second language and understanding of other cultures will enable the state’s college graduates to function far better in the new California in which minority groups are fast becoming the majority of citizens.

The report finesses the question of whether Proposition 13 and the Gann spending limit, which severely restrict the state’s ability to carry out master plan goals, should be modified or eliminated. But The UC Board of Regents and the Cal State Board of Trustees both recently passed resolutions calling for changes in state spending limits.

Some of the legislators’ recommendations can be done without massive spending increases, but many will take money, and the review panel, at least, has committed itself to trying to honor that commitment, too. The strong words are down on paper. Now it’s time for action.


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