Ruskin convenes Master Plan committee for higher education

For the last 50 years, California’s vast public higher education system has been governed by a Master Plan that sets out goals and determines student eligibility. Starting Monday, a legislative committee will begin contemplating the biggest changes in that plan in decades.

Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, will convene the first hearing of The Joint Committee for Review of the Master Plan on Higher Education at the Capitol. The day-long session will include a good deal of background testimony from experts on that plan. Over the next four months, the Committee will meet four more times as it tries to map out a system capable of meeting the state’s future needs.

One key aspect of the master plan Ruskin hopes to look at is the set of formulas that determine student’s eligibility to enter into and transfer between the community college system, the California State University System and the University of California system.

“Can we provide a space for everyone who is eligible?” Ruskin asked. “That is becoming less and less the case.”

Recent budget cuts and fee increases have created a ripple effect that has caused numerous problems, such as making it more difficult for community college students to transfer to a four-year school. Meanwhile, a growing number of disadvantaged students is putting more strain on the community college system.

“More and more students are finding they need to go to the community college system if they are going to get into higher education,” Ruskin said.

He also noted that California was a very different place in 1960, when the original master plan went into place. In 1960, California had a population of 15.7 million, over 80 percent of them native-born whites—very different from today’s majority-minority state of almost 40 million people.

Meanwhile, economist say the state is already running short on the skilled college graduates needed to keep the economy running, with the deficit likely to grow in coming years. The new plan may focus on how to do more with less—though Ruskin also notes that the original master plan didn’t take on some recently-controversial expenses, such as high salaries for UC's chancellors.

He also said they would try to look at building more “accountability” into the system in terms of graduation rates and successful transfers from community colleges to four year schools.

“What I’m interested in doing now is elevating the public conversation on the challenges facing higher education,” Ruskin said. “I think everyone expects that their child will have a place in college. If people understand that this may not be the case, I think things will change.”

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