State Legislators Discuss Master Plan with State Higher Education Officials

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SACRAMENTO-A joint committee of the California Legislature held the first of five public meetings Monday on the status of higher education and to discuss possible revisions to the state's Master Plan for Higher Education.

The committee, chaired by Ira Ruskin D–Redwood City, heard reports from higher education officials including UC President Mark Yudof as well as the chief consultant of the 1989 Master Plan review, Brian Murphy.

The goal of the eight-hour hearing that Ruskin described as "sobering" was in part to create a dialogue with the public and increase awareness of the value of higher education.

"That conversation could culminate once the value and need is established in the public mind … with the public asking the question, 'What do we do?'" Ruskin said.

Former UC President Clark Kerr spearheaded the creation of the Master Plan in 1960 with the goal of expanding the role of the state's system of public higher education in response to the population boom of the 1950s. The plan is reviewed every 10 years.

The next four meetings are planned for the first quarter of 2010 and will focus on determining specific revisions.

Most of the morning's discussions centered on the dire state of higher education and the consequences that the state's economy would face if no reforms are enacted.

"We are in imminent danger of losing the quality and competitive edge which really California has had in the human capital business for most of these 50 years," Yudof said during his report at the meeting. "The economy and the quality of your life in California are highly dependent upon the vitality of higher education."

By 2025, 40 percent of jobs in California will require a college degree but at the current rate only 35 percent of the state workforce will have one, a shortfall of one million college graduates, according to Associate Director of the Public Policy Institute of California Hans Johnson.

"By failing to meet that demand we will have a less educated workforce … that is less civically engaged and creates less tax revenue and requires more social services," he said.

Beyond possible economic consequences, many speakers spoke of the value that the higher education system has on the state's government.

"To say democracy is at stake is not hyperbole," Murphy said. "The democracy of the state depended upon an educated people who were broadly, deeply, widely and wisely educated in rich and complex ways."

Students from several UC, CSU and community colleges came forward to urge the legislators to realize the state of higher education and act to restore funding, including Laura Pratt, a senior at Sacramento State University.

"This morning several of the panelists mentioned, 'it's been a sobering day,'" Pratt said. "Welcome to our lives, we have been feeling the stress now for a while."

While all the legislators on the committee agreed upon the importance of higher education, the question as to how to go about restoring funding was left unanswered. Assemblyman Warren Furutani D-Long Beach said that new taxes were unlikely to achieve the two-thirds majority required to pass the state legislature and advised students throughout the state to put forth a tax initiative for the June 2010 ballot.


Javier Panzar covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected]

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