The Master Plan for Higher Education and the Missions of the California Community Colleges

Jane Patton, President

In 1960 the California State Legislature adopted the Master Plan for Higher Education, which established the distinct roles of the three public segments of higher education. Its principles included a commitment to ensure Californians access and affordability to postsecondary education. Later, in 1988 the California State Assembly passed Assembly Bill (AB) 1725, which aimed to move colleges away from the K-12 system and into higher education and to professionalize the role of community college faculty. No other legislation has shaped our colleges more than these two seminal works. Yet time has shown that not all of the ideals espoused in them have been realized.

In 2009, Assembly Member Ira Ruskin introduced an Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR 65), calling for a Joint Committee on the Master Plan to review the principles of the Master Plan in light of today’s circumstances. In part, the resolution says, “WHEREAS, The 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education was a precedent-setting document that envisioned a place for every Californian, regardless of background or income, and the 2009–10 Master Plan review effort seeks to continue the wisdom and opportunity included by the original framers…”

My impression has been that most people do not believe that the original Master Plan should be thrown out and a new one written, but rather that it be revisited with a fresh perspective, in light of the state’s current circumstances. The sad State of the California economy has had a variety of effects on our colleges, with short- and long-term consequences. Some folks suggest reducing or even eliminating courses such as noncredit, lifelong learning, enrichment, physical education activities and local graduation requirements, while others suggest that colleges offer a great deal more of the lower division courses now being taught at the universities and even confer baccalaureate degrees. Still others have recommended that colleges greatly expand online learning and the class sizes thereof and make use of more adjunct faculty. The demographic shifts, the increased fees, the huge demand for basic skills and pre-collegiate instruction, the university “redirects” and the large number of unemployed workers have all resulted in changes in our colleges—in whom we serve and how we serve them.

The economic realities in the state, combined with all of these suggestions add up to one thing: a potential permanent shift in the missions of our colleges. With a concern about potential changes to community college missions in mind, I gave the below testimony at the hearing of the Joint Committee for the Review of the Master Plan held in the Capitol on December 7, 2009.

“Good afternoon Chair Ruskin and members of the Committee. I am Jane Patton, the President of the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges and a faculty member at Mission College in Santa Clara. I represent the 60,000 faculty who serve the nearly three million Californians in our 110 community colleges.

Community college faculty are different from their colleagues in the universities. University faculty have a vital responsibility for research in addition to their teaching, while community college faculty devote 100% of their time to teaching.

We embrace our multiple missions with gusto and recognize that our role is to be nimble, adaptable and current. For example, in the last two years alone, we have developed 1,000 new associate degrees to meet changing needs. We are committed to continual improvement and to collaborating with our chancellor to strengthen our service to students and the community.

Our students have a wider array of goals and needs compared to those who are eligible for UC and CSU. Some of them need to learn English as a second language; they may have been away from school for years but discover they need to re-tool their skills to begin or advance in a career. They may not have been successful in earlier education but they have promise, and through higher education they can realize their potential and become more productive citizens. Their outcomes may not always be a degree or transfer, but rather they gain critical job skills or develop fluency in English. These achievements are beneficial for them --- and the state.

I’m sure you know that when workers are laid off in California---they return to our colleges to upgrade their skills. When firefighters and nurses need continuing education, particularly in these post-911 times, they get it in their community’s college. When CSU and UC are forced to turn reduce enrollment, the students come to us for their first two years. When an industry sector changes its requirements, we adapt our curriculum. When young people whose income is low seek a higher education they know they can find affordable opportunities as well as the counseling and support services they need in our colleges.

Our missions have necessarily expanded over the years----to transform us into truly community colleges. We are no longer simply the “junior colleges” of the 1960s. We move people from illiteracy to literacy; from unskilled workers to skilled; from high school dropouts to recipients of occupational certificates and associate degrees and from lower to upper division university coursework. The returning veteran and the re-entry thirty-year-old mother or father each has a place in California’s community colleges. It is vital to protect the multiple missions of the community colleges as distinct from those of the CSU and the UC. This is our niche and our strength.

Community colleges are often called “democracy’s colleges” because they open their doors to all who can benefit. Our students are the most ethnically and racially diverse constituency in the state, and we are proud to serve the rich diversity that is California. We know that 2/3 of CSU graduates and 1/3 of UC’s began in community colleges. We are their gateway.

The wisdom of the Master Plan was its commitment to access and affordability to higher education. Today, however, we cannot serve all those who come to us. We have more university “re-directs” than ever; at the same time that workers have been laid off and the number of 18-year-olds seeking college is greater than ever. Unfortunately, today we are turning away many thousands of students, and the ones who get pushed out are those who most need the community college environment---low income, first generation to college, students of color. I, too, fear the de facto shift to elitism that was referred to earlier today. And, the state is already seeing the effects of a shortage of workers with college degrees. It is frightening to contemplate where we may be in ten years from now.

Patrick M. Callan (2009) at the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education said the following: ‘The most significant, and apparently permanent, departure from the Master Plan has been the abrogation of its foundational public policy commitment to college opportunity---- that is its commitment to make higher education available for every Californian who can benefit from college.’ (p. 12)

If the state can provide for the vision of the Master Plan, please know that the faculty of California’s community colleges stand ready to accept the challenge: to strengthen and expand all that we can do for California and its citizens.”

In addition to the legislative review of the Master Plan, the Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates (ICAS) has convened a subcommittee on the Master Plan; our Academic Senate Futures Committee is engaged in dialog about the Plan, and our Fall Plenary Session hosted a lively discussion about the future of our colleges. The Community College League of California has convened a “Commission on the Future” which has one Senate representative. As the Academic Senate continues to monitor and participate in all of the evolving discussions, we welcome the perspectives of you and your college senate.


Callan, P. M. (2009) California's higher education, the master plan and the erosion of college opportunity. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Retrieved January 9, 2010, from

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