Assembly Committee Seek Higher Education Solutions

How to keep higher education both available and affordable in an era of diminishing state funds were the issues before the Assembly Committee on Higher Education meeting at the Faculty Club Nov. 21.

"We are asking for a very direct, clear assessment of what we are doing, what we have done and where we should go from here," said Marguerite Archie-Hudson, committee chair and Democratic Assemblywoman from Los Angeles.

"We need to know what will stand the test--not of this year or this budget cycle, but of the next 15 to 20 years," she said, adding that the Legislature, institutions and the public "working together will decide the quality of life and work force for California."

Vice Chancellors Joseph Cerny and Genaro Padilla welcomed the committee to Berkeley.

Underlying the day-long meeting was how to revise California's much celebrated Master Plan for Higher Education.

Vice Chair and Assemblyman Brooks Firestone, R-Santa Barbara, said the state cannot continue to carry out the full Master Plan given California's financial situation.

"Higher education needs the courage of a radical approach, not Band-Aids. We have to face up to the fact that the people of California have lost faith in the need for higher education, and that's the reality," he said.

Among the problems of access is the shrinking number of spaces for students in community colleges, the Cal State system and UC because of state funds siphoned elsewhere, said Michael Shires, a research fellow at the Rand Corp.

Already, there has been an 11 percent reduction in the number of seats in public institutions for students since 1989.

By 2005, the expected unfunded demand will be 26 percent below the percentage of population served in '89, with community colleges the worst hit.

It may be time, said Shires, for California educators to work with the business community to reconsider the benefit of a four-year bachelor's degree. "More intermediate programs that can be completed in two to three years," may serve the needs of many students and businesses as well, he said.

The real problem with higher education today, said Roberto Haro, is that those planning it are "looking in the rearview mirror. We need a new approach." We don't, he said, need to build another Princeton.

Haro is director of research for the Cesar Chavez Institute for Public Policy at San Francisco State University and formerly with the Berkeley Academic Senate's Professional Development Program.

On the affordability side, we're in equal trouble, said William Pickens, a management consultant for higher education and former executive director of the California Postsec-ondary Education Commission.

"It is evident, based on past studies, that the policy for financing higher education in California is in shambles," he said

Pickens said the state may have to abandon the Master Plan since California no longer has the resources to fulfill its commitment. He suggested the state adopt a performance-funding model for higher education, which has proved successful in Texas and Tennessee.

Jess Bravin, a Berkeley graduate student, said he believes the Master Plan is still viable. He asserted it was the state Legislature's commitment to higher education that has changed as well as the state's financial picture.

"The percentage of money that goes to higher education has gone down considerably over the last several years," he said. "The state needs to restore its commitment to higher education that was present under past administrations."

MRC Greenwood, dean of Graduate Studies at UC Davis, argued that public support for higher education is essential. "The message needs to be sent to the public that our educational base determines our economy. Our dire economic condition is a symptom of our educational deficit."

The committee will continue its hearing Dec. 7 at USC. Archie-Hudson noted that California can not overlook the role private institutions play in higher education.


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