California higher ed needs sufficient funding

The creators of the Master Plan wisely envisioned California’s higher education segments as three parts of a whole.
The creators of the Master Plan wisely envisioned California’s higher education segments as three parts of a whole. Associated Press file

In 1960, California leaders and educators presented a visionary blueprint for the state’s higher education system. The Master Plan, as it became known, codified a commitment by the state and its citizenry to ensure that California high school graduates could pursue a quality, public higher education and have the opportunity to advance.

The Master Plan has served California for decades, and continues to guide the state’s three higher education segments: the California Community Colleges, the California State University and the University of California.

Today, each segment continues to play a distinct role while also complementing the others. Together, our three systems offer California’s high school graduates everything from career and technical training to master’s degrees to groundbreaking research opportunities while also leaving the door open for community college students to transfer to UC or CSU. Research by faculty and students leads to doctoral degrees and post-doctoral studies while also spurring innovation and fostering economic growth in California.

As the leaders of the governing boards of these three institutions, we are currently engaged, together, in robust discussions and advocacy as part of the ongoing state budget process. As Gov. Jerry Brown and state legislators shape California’s next budget and consider funding levels for higher education, we urge them to keep in mind that our three institutions form an interconnected system, working in concert to serve California and its students.

We have made collaboration and coordination among the three segments a top priority and have made significant progress in better aligning our systems. We have taken steps to streamline the transfer process for community college students to the UC and CSU systems. We are exploring ways to expand joint K-12 outreach efforts and collaborations in the areas of procurement, contracting and risk management. And the leaders of our institutions have been meeting regularly and working closely to identify the big issues affecting higher education in California so we can find ways to address them together.

Ensuring the dream of higher education is achievable for all Californians depends heavily on adequate funding for all three sectors of higher education. The growing emphasis on community colleges – on the state and federal level – is a positive and welcome development. But an isolated increase in support for community colleges could be undermined by insufficient support for our other segments.

The creators of the Master Plan wisely envisioned California’s higher education segments as three parts of a whole. If we want California’s public higher education system to continue growing and serving the state’s current needs, there must be adequate funding for all three higher education segments.

California’s community college students need and deserve a clear and accessible path to their next educational step – a seat in the UC or CSU systems, and a solid education once they get there. If the UC and CSU systems aren’t funded sufficiently, we risk creating a wave of frustrated community college students unable to progress in their education and capitalize on their potential.

Moreover, this trend could have detrimental consequences for California’s economy, which requires increasing numbers of highly skilled workers to continue our recovery from the recession. Maintaining academic quality and access, and expanding successful programs at all three of our institutions is critical to ensuring our graduates are ready to enter California’s workforce and meet employers’ needs.

Our state has been fortunate that its leaders and educators had the foresight decades ago to design the Master Plan that has guided the higher education system and served California’s economy so well. We have all reaped the benefits of their visionary work.

We want to see California continue to thrive, and we know the state’s future success is inextricably tied to its higher education system. Let’s take advantage of what we, as a state, have built and nurtured together over the years and preserve a robust public higher education system that continues to make Californians proud.

Geoffrey Baum is president of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors. Lou Monville is chair of the California State University board of trustees. Bruce D. Varner is chairman of the University of California Board of Regents.