The California Master Plan for Higher Education promised all Californian college students access to a high-quality and affordable education. 50 years later, that promise is crippled and conditional for students who have limited access to core classes, rising student loan debt and diminished campus resources. A recent study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) reveals that higher education in California is suffering in four areas: providing students with a comprehensive general education, promoting intellectual diversity, managing cost and effectiveness, and maintaining fair governance. After compiling data from the UC and CSU systems, UC Riverside fell right in the middle.
The council reported that the California education system is failing to give students a well-rounded education in the areas of composition, literature, intermediate-level foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics and natural or physical science. The core curriculum was fulfilled by a majority of the Cal State system, yet UC students came up short; UCR met just two of the seven requirements in the areas of composition and science. ACTA argues that the lack of a comprehensive education threatens the prospects of work for graduates as well, as these qualities are what employers seek in today’s competitive job market.
Additionally, the study argues that it is not a lack, but misdirection of funds from taxpayers, the government and tuition, that is responsible for the gaps in students’ education. “Over the five-year period from 2006-07 to 2011-12, tuition has risen on average 73.1 percent at UC campuses, and 83.8 percent at Cal State campuses.” UCR tuition, in particular, climbed to a staggering 75.8 percent change for an average of $12,924 for the 2011-2012 academic year. In addition to tuition hikes, the UC received “over $270 million more in general fund support than did the Cal state system.” However, students have seen the trend turn toward closing class sections and enlarging current class sizes.
Misdirection of the funds may be due in part to the lack of efficient use of most facilities. The data shows, “only one school—UC-Santa Cruz—met California’s minimum standards for average weekly classroom contact of 35 hours per station per week.” UC Riverside falls somewhere in the middle, “from a low of 20.8 hours at UC Merced to 35.9 hours per week at UC Santa Cruz.” The results of the study confirm that many campus facilities are not fully maximised to ensure an open academic environment. Limited accessibility to classes will impede graduation rates, which is a growing problem among California schools. Of all undergraduates at UCR, only 46 percent graduate in four years and only 68 percent in six years.
The council argues that both students and regents have the power to make the UC an affordable and cost-effective higher education system. Yet, while “The regents have ‘full powers of organization and government’ over the University, [they]…play virtually no role in setting academic priorities or overseeing academic quality.” In addition, the study shows that every campus in the UC has speech codes that either “endanger” or “substantially restrict” free speech. The UC’s speech code boasts, “…the importance of an ‘open forum policy’ on the campuses, of a free exchange of ideas, and of pursuit of the truth wherever it may lead—popular or unpopular though that may be. . . .”
UC Riverside once again fares right in the middle. In a red, yellow and green light scale that measures freedom of speech on campus, UCR was ranked with a yellow light, which the authors have defined as “clearly endangered.” The study states that “both the UC and Cal State systems have published broad policy statements outlining rights to free expression,” in reference to the Response to Protest on UC Campuses report. The protest guidelines were released as a result of the UC Berkeley and UC Davis incidents that occurred in 2011, which the council attests were violations of free speech in the California education system.
The study warns that, “In 2013, a Cal State enrollment freeze, along with a shortage of places at UC, could turn away 25,000 students or more.” The Master Plan is the statewide standard for higher education, yet the report by ACTA identifies areas of improvement that is deemed necessary for California colleges. The council encourages stronger ties for students and governance at every level, in order to create an envisioned master plan that is permanent and sustainable.