Amy Costa, president of the Board of Trustees of California Community Colleges, last month called the state’s “higher education master plan” “outdated at best.” Community colleges are facing serious challenges in funding baccalaureate degree programs, and the 62-year-old governing document is a major reason for this.
The plan needs to be re-implemented not only to reflect new workforce realities but also to remove the veneer of elitism baked into it.
Officially known as the Donahue Higher Education Act of 1960, the state’s higher education blueprint was supposed to bring a collection of competing colleges and universities into a unified system. The University of California, California State University, and California Junior Colleges were each assigned a special role with a specific cadre of students—all offering higher education opportunities to anyone who wanted to pursue their education.
But the UC system was heavily influenced by the plan’s development. At that time, only the best and brightest students from different classes were allowed to enter the prestigious university. Fewer students were admitted to the CSU system, while everyone else had the option of attending a junior college.
Even the name “Master Plan” hearkens back to the time of complete subjugation.
Higher education has evolved over the past 60 years. It is imperative that they stop looking to the laws written when Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House for guidance on how to govern California. Community colleges today are offering more non-credit, short-term vocational certifications, and state universities are offering certificates through growing extension programs. Each college is required to provide additional social support to students, providing facilities such as food storage, housing assistance, legal assistance and child care.
In the year In 2014, California took important action with Senate Bill 850 and a pilot program allowing 15 of California’s 116 community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees (though limited to career-oriented areas in states with a lack of skilled labor). That was followed last year by Assembly Bill 927, which would have authorized up to 30 more community college baccalaureate programs each year.
The results were amazing. An August study by UC Davis found that 56% of students graduating from California community college baccalaureate programs would not have pursued a bachelor’s degree unless it was offered there. Community colleges are offering in-demand baccalaureate programs, especially in fields neglected by the CSU and UC systems.
Another reason: Students from disadvantaged families who can’t afford to leave their hometowns for college can now earn a bachelor’s degree from a California community college at a fraction of the cost of a UC, CSU or private bachelor’s degree. School.
Expanding opportunities at community colleges is a matter of equity. Approximately two-thirds of community college baccalaureate students are students of color, more than 70% of community college students are nonwhite, and 35% are the first in their families to attend college. What’s more, California’s public universities can’t meet the growing demand for bachelor’s degrees, and students are turning away simply because they don’t have the space.
California’s community colleges are the foundation of the state’s higher education system. With 1.8 million students in 116 colleges, it is the nation’s largest workforce training and higher education system. Community colleges, like the University of California and California State University, are vital to our economy, and it’s time for higher education administration documents to reflect that.
Carlos O. Cortez is the Chancellor of the San Diego Community College District. Distributed by CalMatters.org.