California’s commitment to its world-acclaimed system of public higher education has declined dramatically since 2000, at tremendous loss to California’s people, economy and future prospects.
It’s not too late. There are solutions.
- It is commonly, but mistakenly, presumed that returning to California’s Master Plan for Higher Education would cost too much, putting the best solution out of political reach.
- This presumption has led to policy changes and recommendations for the future which, if adopted, will only speed the deterioration of California’s higher education system.
- The fact is, better options—reasonable, do-able and affordable—are available to practical-minded leaders of today. The funding can be found right here in California.
The Master Plan, California’s proven model
In 1960, California Governor Pat Brown and lawmakers created the Master Plan for Higher Education and rationalized its three-segment system:
- University of California | Undergraduate, graduate, research and professional education; open to top one-eighth of high school graduates
- California State University | Undergraduate and graduate education through the master’s degree in professional and teacher education; open to top one-third of high school graduates
- California Community Colleges | Academic and vocational instruction through the first two years of undergraduate education; open to all, with transfer routes to the four-year universities.
This system was highly successful. It accommodated Baby Boom students in the world’s best public universities, efficiently delivering opportunity and upward mobility to young Californians and their families.
The state takes a disastrous detour into privatization
The 1960 Master Plan treated education as a public good, provided at low-cost or no-cost to all California students, yielding a wider social and economic benefit. But since 2000, higher education has been treated as a commodity to be sold to consumers for their private gain.
- Between 2001 and 2016, $57 billion (in real dollars) has been withheld from California’s public higher education sector. By 2016, the state was spending 39 percent less per university student than fifteen years before.
- At the same time, the three segments increased student charges dramatically. Tuition and mandatory fees have risen nearly 150 percent at UC and nearly 170 percent at the CSU. They have more than tripled at community colleges.
- Coincident with the state’s privatization experiment, student debt at California’s public universities has exploded. In 2015, more than half of UC and CSU seniors graduated with more than a diploma: they also carried $1.3 billion in student debt. Total debt accumulated by the state’s public university students since 2004: $12 billion.
- The damage has been system-wide. Classes are impacted. Qualified students are turned away or unable to afford the public higher education that two previous generations took for granted. Research and instruction suffer. Trying to make up for state cuts, universities engage in damaging behaviors that threaten their core mission, such as private fundraising and signing up out-of-state students simply for the tuition revenue they generate.
- Premised on the presumption that California—objectively richer than ever—has no will to restore the higher education system that made that prosperity possible, experts propose “efficiency” campaigns to cope with scarcity. Sadly, educational quality is too often left out of the equation.
People suffer when a system fails
- California students and their families are paying more and getting less. Beyond the generational losses, California is now failing to produce enough college-educated citizens to support its economic future.
- Indeed, if the state deliberately set out to implement a policy to deny its people opportunity and make sure California is a loser in national and global competition, privatizing higher education does the job.
Reclaim the model that serves all Californians
- California voters feel California’s public higher education system is central to the state’s quality of life and its economic vitality. They set restoring top-quality, affordable higher education ahead of other state priorities, including high-speed rail, water projects, and rebuilding roads and bridges.
- It turns out that keeping the full promise of the Master Plan—returning the state’s investment per CSU and UC student to 2000 levels (inflation adjusted); eliminating tuition and fees for all in-state UC, CSU and CCC students; and funding seats for qualified California high-school graduates now refused access to the system—is affordable.
- Reclaim seats for in-state students | With the Master Plan restored, California higher education would no longer feel compelled to seek to cover funding gaps with non-resident tuition. As a result, out-of-state undergraduate enrollments could return to historic levels.
- Re-emphasize the public service mission | Overall policy must deemphasize private fundraising that distorts or neglects research in the public interest. Restoring the Master Plan would allow higher education administrators to be paid as public servants administering public funds rather than as “developers” pursuing private money.
Make a reasonable financial commitment | To fully fund projected enrollment and eliminate tuition in all three segments of California’s public higher education system will cost $9.43 billion in 2016-17. It can be covered through an annual income-tax surcharge that will:
- Cost median-income California families $48 a year;
- Cost two-thirds of state households less than $150 a year;
- Cost households in the top 5 percent about $7,100 (more for multi-millionaires).
- Add other financing options | If California, like other states, adopted an estate tax and an oil severance tax, those could cover about a quarter of the entire cost of restoring the Master Plan, reducing the median household’s cost to $36.
- The privatization experiment has failed. The harm to a generation of hard-working, high-aiming young people is proven. It’s time to return to what works: the proven Master Plan for higher education in California. California, with its own resources, can afford to restore top-quality, accessible, affordable college and university opportunity to every qualified student. In fact, Californians can afford nothing less.
Other recent reports of interest: Equity Interrupted: How California Is Cheating Its Future | Securing The Public Trust Practical Steps Toward Higher Education Finance Reform In California | PPIC: "Californians Favor Higher Taxes over Higher Tuition"