The Master Plan for Higher Education, developed in 1960 by the UC Regents and the State Board of Education, intended to make higher education accessible to all proficient students.
Since then, increased competition among students, increased tuition, financial divestment from education, low retention rates and the changing roles of the various collegiate systems have kept the plan from being upheld.
Across California, student leaders are trying to raise awareness among legislatures of the plan’s deficiencies in order to get a reformation on the table.
“It’s very clear that however well-intentioned the Master Plan is, 53 years have passed since it was written, and a lot of circumstances have changed,” said Dillan Horton, the ASUCD director of Student Affairs. “We need to update the Master Plan under the current circumstances.”
The UC Student Associations of Davis, Santa Barbara and San Diego have passed resolutions in support of the reform. The graduate association of UC Santa Cruz has also passed the resolution.
On Feb. 24, Henry Y. Tang, the chancellor of UC Santa Barbara, came out in support of reforming the Master Plan, according to Kareem Aref, the statewide president of the University of California Student Association (UCSA).
There have been pushes for reform in the past, but many of them have resulted in reviews of the Master Plan, which were largely ineffective, according to Harley Litzelman, the external director of Lobby Corps at UC Davis and a first-year sociology and communications double major.
“I would like to see some executive professionals within higher education, at the administrative level recognize that this 50-year-old plan doesn’t just need revision or reassignment,” Litzelman said. “We need a redrafted master plan. A plan that is both preservative of the original virtues, but also confronts many of the new challenges in higher education.”
If the plan were to be redrafted, it could be provide a basis for real legislative action and command a lot of attention from the regents which could require implementation of the recommendations, according to Litzelman.
While the intentions of the plan have been to provide higher education for all, cuts in government funding from universities have resulted in increased student fees and tuition, Litzelman said.
The UCSA is currently campaigning for an oil severance pact and divestment from prisons, either of which could allow some funds to be allocated back into education through the Master Plan for Higher Education, Aref said.
Litzelman said that due to the increasing competitiveness of California universities, seats will probably continue to be filled, but that the result will be a decreasingly diverse student population.
“You’re antagonizing the minorities in order to fill these classrooms,” Litzelman said. “How can you call yourself a public service if that’s the case?”
The plan divides California’s institutions for higher education into three specific categories: UCs (University of California), CSUs (California State University) and CCCs (California Community College).
UCs were meant mostly for research, CSUs for direct application to the working world and CCCs as feeders for students to get some lower level work done before moving into either a UC or CSU.
But according to Horton, there are students falling through the cracks in these systems.
“Students aren’t as able as they used to be to move through that process and have access to an affordable education,” Horton said. “With the cost changes in the UC system over the years, there are certain groups of students who aren’t able to benefit.”
While there is some funding provided to low-income students, the middle chunk of students is largely unsupported, according to Horton.
Retention rates are also a big issue, according to Litzelman. There is a school of thought that believes that low retention rates are evidence of high standards, but Litzelman said that doesn’t promote higher public education.
In the past, there have been two authorities on higher education, the Coordinating Council for Higher Education (CCHE) and the California Postsecondary Education Committee (CPEC). Since the plan’s initiation in 1960, both of these groups have been disbanded, according to David Kuwabara, ASUCD Lobby Corps director and a third-year managerial economics major.
“They weren’t able to make accurate policy recommendations. It’s as if you were writing your own grades on your report card,” Kuwabara said. “But now, the institutions are … stepping on each others’ toes as they try to navigate a changing system.”
CPEC was defunded by California Gov. Jerry Brown in 2011 as a line item budget veto, with no recommendations for a different administrative body given, according to Litzelman.
“While the agency wasn’t totally effective, it was an abrasive move to eliminate an agency without intent to replace,” Litzelman said.
According to Litzelman, it seemed like Gov. Brown wanted the different segments (UC, CSU, CCC) to take responsibility for themselves, in an attempt to “reduce the size of government.”
While the exact principles of the reformed Master Plan are still to be debated, change needs to happen, according to Aref.
“Our real focus is centered around the state refocusing on higher education and reprioritizing [higher education],” Aref said. “I’d like to believe that one day we’ll be able to reach a point where higher education is completely accessible.”