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Panel's Revision of State Education Plan Near Its Final Stage

July 22, 1987|ELAINE WOO | Times Education Writer

A revised blueprint for California's public colleges and universities that recommends significantly expanding the role of community colleges is expected to receive formal approval today by a state commission.

Among the key changes proposed is a requirement that the University of California gradually reduce the percentage of freshmen and sophomores in the undergraduate population to 40% by 1996 in order to encourage more transfers from community colleges.

Other changes call for making the state's 70 community college districts directly accountable to the Board of Governors, which has not enjoyed the same degree of authority that the UC and California State University boards wield.

Legislative Assignment

The revisions are contained in a report by the Commission for the Review of the Master Plan for Higher Education, a 15-member panel charged by the Legislature to evaluate the need for major structural or financial changes in the three tiers of California's public higher education system--UC, CSU and the community colleges.

The Master Plan, written in 1960, was designed to limit competition and duplication among the three segments. The Legislature created the independent, nonpartisan review commission in 1984 when the state's community colleges were suffering from a dramatic decline in students and prestige.

The commission's recommendations, which are not binding, will be presented next month to a joint legislative committee on the Master Plan.

The report calls for these major changes:

- Beginning in the 1989-90 academic year, UC would begin to reduce the percentage of freshmen and sophomores among the undergraduate total by 1% a year until the lower-division enrollment reaches 40%. The time frame would allow UC to "gear up" for the prospect of increased numbers of transfer students, as well as give the community colleges time to expand and improve their ability to successfully prepare students for the public four-year institutions.

- The CSU faculty would have a greater opportunity to conduct research, although the commission explicitly states that the CSU campuses should not be turned into research institutions. In particular, the CSU system would be urged to pay more attention to applied research in education aimed at improving instruction in kindergarten through 12th grades.

- The state's 106 community colleges would be recognized as a distinct and unified system, similar to UC and CSU, with a strengthened Board of Governors that could establish and enforce policies on a statewide basis. Although the Board of Governors would delegate many responsibilities to local district boards that they already carry out, the local boards would be made "directly accountable" to the state board for implementing statewide policies.

State community college Chancellor Joshua Smith, in an interview Tuesday, said the commission's recommendations, if implemented, would go a long way toward restoring the public's confidence in community colleges as a place to begin a course of higher education.

"This document views the community colleges as an integral part of higher education . . . and recognizes how important these colleges are to the future of this state. That is very, very important," he said.

One aspect of the plan that Smith said he is particularly pleased with is the call for the strengthening of the community colleges' role in transferring qualified students to the UC or CSU systems.

The commission's proposal to require the UC system to gradually reduce the number of first- and second-year students will ultimately "wind up helping UC and CSU," Smith said.

"Most of the under-served populations in the state, if they do take advantage of higher education, begin in the community colleges. If we can do a better job helping them to succeed in those first two years, greater numbers will transfer (to the other systems), and the criticism we hear about student affirmative action will be diminished."

The two-year colleges have had a poor track record in transfers in recent years. According to a report by the California Postsecondary Education Commission, fewer students transferred from the community colleges to UC and CSU last fall than the previous year, a decline that in large part resulted from the overall drop in college enrollments.

The UC system had initially opposed the proposal to redirect students to the community colleges, saying that it would force the system to turn away thousands of eligible students. Particularly affected, UC officials contended, would be minority applicants, many of whom barely meet the university's standards for admission.

Joyce Justus, director of educational relations for the UC campuses, said the university now is satisfied with the final draft of the report.

"What we like about the whole report," she said, "is that it places strengthening of the community colleges at the forefront of the agenda. We are not going to change anything without strong legislative and fiscal support for the community colleges."

Gary Shansby, who chairs the commission, said he strongly supports the proposals in the final report, particularly the UC admissions limit.

"I personally believe that the responsibility (for increasing community college transfers) does not lie exclusively with the community colleges but is a shared responsibility with UC and CSU. . . . I put the burden on them to make it happen."

Many of the commission's recommendations will be costly. According to commission estimates, for instance, the extra hiring and support services needed to expand CSU faculty research may cost $14.5 million.

Another proposal to remove a limit on the amount the state pays community colleges for new enrollment may result in the expenditure of an additional $86.5 million. The law that now limits the state to paying for about 1% of new students has had a devastating impact on the state's two-year colleges, particularly in the Los Angeles Community College District.

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