Beyond The Master Plan: The Case for Restructuring Baccalaureate Education in California


Although a stunning success in many ways, California’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education has been a conspicuous failure in one respect: California ranks near the bottom of the states in the proportion of its college-age population that attains a baccalaureate degree. California’s poor record of B.A. attainment is an unforeseen consequence of the Master Plan’s restrictions on admission to 4-year baccalaureate institutions, limiting eligibility for the University of California and the state colleges (later the California State University) to the top eighth and top third, respectively, of the state’s high school graduates. As a result, 2-year institutions have absorbed the vast majority of enrollment growth in California higher education since 1960, but 4-year enrollments have not kept pace. California now ranks last among the states in the proportion of its college students who attend a 4-year campus. The state’s low rate of baccalaureate attainment is sometimes blamed on the failure of community colleges to produce more transfers, but comparison of higher education systems in other states reveals a more fundamental problem: California’s 4-year sector is simply too small in relation to the size of its college-age population. The state urgently needs to expand 4-year enrollment capacity in order to improve baccalaureate attainment among the new, more diverse generation of Californians now reaching college age. Yet building expensive new 4-year campuses is an unlikely option given the state’s fiscal outlook. The alternative is to restructure California’s existing postsecondary system.

Publication date: 
January 1, 2013
Publication type: 
Journal Articles
Beyond The Master Plan: The Case for Restructuring Baccalaureate Education in California Saul Geiser with Richard C. Atkinson. California Journal of Politics and Policy (January 2013), 4 (1), 67-123.