Thursday, February 16, 2012

Documenting the Failure of the Master Plan

Three recent reports have recently come out that show how the California Master Plan for Higher Education has failed. While this plan worked for a few decades, it now has been undermined, In fact, the most telling statistic in the report entitled Beyond the Master Plan: The case for restructuring Baccalaureate education in California is that, “California now ranks last among the states in the proportion of its college students that attend a 4-year institution.” In other words, there are simply not enough spots open at universities for California students, and while many students do go to community colleges, very few of these students end up graduating or transferring to universities.

The new Master Reality is one that is dominated by racial disparities: “Relative to their share of the state’s college-age population, Latino, African American, and American Indian students are more poorly represented in California’s 4-year universities than in any other state except Arizona. Inevitably, the state’s low rate of minority enrollment in 4-year institutions translates into low rates of baccalaureate attainment: California ranks 45th in the proportion of its underrepresented minority population that attains a B.A.” While these underrepresented minority groups now represent the majority in California, their level of college degree attainment is one of the lowest in the country.

A conspiracy theorist would say that the state started to defund higher education when it saw that most of the students were going to be non-whites, but we do not need a conspiracy to explain this situation. The major factor for this problem is that the state has simply not spent enough money building new four-year institutions. Due to this lack of enrollment space, community college students have no way to transfer to universities. Moreover, as the press release “Civil Rights Project Reports Call for Fundamental Changes in California’s Community Colleges” argues, “Almost 75% of all Latino and two-thirds of all Black students who go on to higher education in California go to a community college, yet in 2010 only 20% of all transfers to four-year institutions were Latino or African American. Pathways to the baccalaureate are segregated; students attending low-performing high schools usually go directly into community colleges that transfer few students to 4-year colleges. Conversely, a handful of community colleges serving high percentages of white, Asian and middle class students are responsible for the majority of all transfers in the state.” In other words, if you are not white and you do not go to the right community college in California, you have virtually no chance of ever getting a four-year degree. In fact, I recently discovered that a large group of community college students who do end up transferring to the UCs are in reality out-of-state and international students who come to California in order to eventually transfer to the UC system.

The second report, “Unrealized Promises: Unequal Access, Affordability, and Excellence at Community Colleges in Southern California,” reveals how “segregated high schools with weak records feed students into heavily minority community colleges where few students successfully transfer.” The de facto system in the new Master Reality is that a conveyer belt has been produced that moves students from segregated high schools serving low-income Black and Hispanic students to segregated, low-performing community colleges, which produce very few transfer students. The end result is that everyone ends up paying more, while the state has fewer students earning four-year degrees.

We clearly have a system of institutionalized racism in the state, but no single group is responsible for this sad state of affairs. Instead, we have a conspiracy of unintended consequences. Just as the number of under-represented minority high school students in the state was increasing, Prop 13 was passed, which resulted in the reduction of taxes and the decrease of state support for higher education. In order to make up for this loss of state funds, universities decided to increase the number of non-resident students and slow the growth of enrollment for students from California. In turn, due to white flight, public high schools became self-segregated as the local tax support for these schools was decreased. Since many white parents were no longer sending their kids to public high schools, they saw no reason to pay more taxes to support these schools. Furthermore, due to the real estate bubble, non-white families were priced out of the few neighborhoods that still had high-quality public high schools.

One of the main solutions proposed is that in order to create more enrollments spaces for transfer students, we need to create hybrid four-year universities: “Examples include university centers and 2-year university branch campuses. Under the university center model, 4-year universities offer upper-division coursework at community college campuses, enabling “place bound” students to complete their baccalaureate degree program there. Under the 2-year university branch model, some community colleges are converted, in effect, into lower-division satellites of state universities, thereby expanding capacity at the 4-year level and eliminating the need for the traditional transfer process. What these and other hybrid models have in common is that they help bridge the divide between 2-year and 4-year institutions, enabling more students to enter baccalaureate programs directly from high school and progress seamlessly to their degrees.” While these hybrid institutions may be a good temporary solution, the question still remains of how do we confront the institutional racism of our entire education system in California.

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