A state commission nearing the end of two years of deliberations on ways to improve California's public colleges and universities has urged that primary responsibility for growth in undergraduate education take place in the state's community colleges rather than in its four-year institutions.
The recommendation, presented for public comment on Monday, drew immediate criticism from University of California President David P. Gardner, who warned that if it becomes state policy, some students who are eligible to attend UC or the California State University system will be forced to attend community colleges for their first two undergraduate years.
The proposal was the work of the Commission for the Review of the Master Plan for Higher Education, a 15-member board charged by the Legislature with considering whether major structural or budgetary changes should be made in California's three-tiered system of higher education--UC, Cal State and the state's community colleges.
Meeting in Los Angeles on Monday, the commission presented its nearly completed report for public comment, despite opposition both from outside education and within its own ranks. The final recommendations are expected in early summer, but what they will actually say was unclear to many members of the commission Monday--particularly considering the reservations raised by Gardner.
In addition to a new emphasis on the community colleges, the panel advocates a much greater role for the Cal State system in conducting advanced research and in teaching.
The report, however, rejected a hotly debated proposal that Cal State campuses be allowed to offer doctoral degrees. That role is now assigned exclusively to UC under the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education. The Master Plan was designed to limit competition and duplication among the state's colleges and universities by setting up the three-tiered system.
Under this system, the nine UC campuses are to accept students only from the top eighth of the state's high school graduating classes and are to offer undergraduate degrees and professional degrees. The 19 Cal State campuses are to draw students in the top third of the graduating classes and focus on undergraduate education with some offerings at the master's level. The 106 community colleges are to be opened to all high school graduates and provide the first two years of undergraduate training.
Gardner contended Monday that the new recommendations would fundamentally change higher education in California. For example, he said, the report "indirectly" is trying to make substantial changes in UC's admissions policies without opening those changes up to public debate.
One proposal in the report, he said, would require UC to limit its undergraduate enrollment to 40% of its overall enrollment. Any growth in enrollment in the state beyond that point would have to be diverted to Cal State or, in many cases, to the community colleges. Under the existing Master Plan, the 40% lower division figure is a target but not a requirement.