Tidal Wave II

Viewpoint: Stakes are so high, no one can afford to sit this one out

By Dion Aroner, State Assemblywoman
Posted 26 Jan 2000

By 2010, roughly 700,000 new students -- the children of the Baby Boom generation -- will be seeking an education in California's public colleges. The question looms large before us: how will our higher education systems accommodate "Tidal Wave II," and what steps must we take now to address the impending demand?

California has no laws or legal entitlements that require the state's public universities to make room for new students. Rather, the issue is one of historic and moral obligation. Since 1960, the University of California has adhered to the State Master Plan for Higher Education, maintaining a commitment to enroll the top 12.5 percent of each year's high school graduating class.

As a Cal alumna and an elected official whose district includes the Berkeley campus, I am proud that the University of California has met the challenge of the Master Plan and intends to continue its commitment to the state. But with that commitment comes a significant challenge. In the next 10 years, the University of California, systemwide, must absorb an additional 63,000 students. Every campus will feel the pressure, as will every community in which a campus resides.

The Legislature recognizes that the increased student population will have a huge impact on local cities and communities, intensifying pressure on facilities, housing, transportation, public safety, parking and more. We in Berkeley understand the problem all too well; dense urban communities like ours will certainly feel a disproportionate impact.

In the coming years the Legislature will actively explore ways to assist communities that will bear the greatest burden, and hopefully expand the number of campuses. I believe we must use technology to integrate distance learning more effectively into the university curriculum and meet some of the enrollment demand at off-campus centers and through summer sessions.

In our own community, it will take collective creativity, as well as sensitive decision-making at the state level, to find workable methods to meet the expansion challenge. It will also take a true partnership between the community and the university, with give and take in both directions. Too often in the past, it has felt to many like a one-way street. Ultimately we must view this as a mutual "town and gown" challenge that, if we fail to meet successfully, could deny our children the educational opportunities from which we -- their parents -- benefited. Worse, if we fail to accommodate the future student population, we will deprive UC Berkeley and our community of the demographic diversity that is our state's future.

The 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education is currently undergoing rigorous review by a legislative Master Plan committee. The revisions may take as long as four years to complete, and I am troubled by some possible outcomes. For example, among other adjustments, eligibility for the University of California may be re-examined, or the percentage of eligible students who will be accepted to the university may drop. Is this an outcome that the state or our community desires? I don't believe it is.

All of us in California, whether we are the parents of this new generation or the business leaders who are dependent upon it for the economic future, will benefit by making sure that California continues to serve the growing number of young people who qualify for admission to the University of California.

There is no single answer to the growth challenge, but there is one crucial imperative -- we must ensure that we meet the challenge by preserving both the quality of education and the quality of life in the cities that are home to our universities. As the legislative representative for the city of Berkeley and surrounding communities, I plan to assist in the many adjustments and accommodations that the campus, city and community will require to meet this challenge. I look forward to working with community representatives and university leaders as we negotiate the path before us.

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