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October 17, 2013
Editorial: California needs to revise vision for higher education

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(Oct. 17 -- By the Editorial Board)

In a report that should not sit on a shelf, the Little Hoover Commission this week urged Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators to devise a new master plan for higher education to meet anticipated demand for 2.3 million more college graduates within 12 years.

A revised master plan, completed 50 years after the first one, would make for an ideal undertaking for a governor whose father is identified with the expansion of California's public colleges and universities.

As the commission sees it, California must envision higher education on a much greater level than it does now, embrace online education and create seamless transfers from community colleges to four-year institutions, all worthy notions.

Although the report does not call for more funding for higher education, it notes that higher education spending has shrunk from 18 percent of the general fund in the early 1970s to 12 percent today. As it is, California approaches funding in a piecemeal fashion. Tuition rises in bad times and is stable when the economy picks up.

The commission said more online course offerings could help lower costs and ensure access, but that "California is moving substantially slower than it should to integrate online because of faculty opposition as well as institutional inertia."

Some of the recommendations are obvious. There should be greater oversight and transparency, for example. There also were notable omissions. There is passing mention of private nonprofit colleges. They should be part of any solution.

The commission failed to address administrators' pay, particularly at the University of California. Lawmakers should take a hard look at pay before sending more money UC's way.

The report cited innovations that work. The Los Rios Community College District operates a branch campus on UC Davis land, and UC Davis agrees to admit Los Rios students who complete community college coursework. That ought to be duplicated elsewhere.

As is the danger with all Little Hoover Commission reports, this one could gather dust. It shouldn't. It could jump-start a serious discussion about the future of higher education in California that could lead to a plan for the next 50 years. Such would be the stuff of legacy for any politician who wants to leave a mark.

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