California’s higher education leaders announce collaborative effort

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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SAN FRANCISCO — The leaders of California’s three-tiered higher education system appeared before the UC Board of Regents on Wednesday to present collaborative initiatives addressing community college transfers, outreach to K-12 students and potential savings in procurement.

UC President Janet Napolitano, CSU Chancellor Timothy White and California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris introduced a cooperative effort between the three institutions that aims to reinvigorate the Master Plan for Higher Education, which is more than 50 years old and provided a framework for California’s higher education system in 1960. While some regents expressed continued faith in the plan’s basic framework and goals, many at the meeting also acknowledged a need for revitalization and adjustment of the plan to better fit California’s changing economy, demographics and more.

“The master plan is often looked at sentimentally, as some sort of foundational, almost biblical treatise,” Napolitano told the regents. “We can do more.”

In order to facilitate community college transfers, the initiative will create a comprehensive transfer student Internet portal where students can keep track of coursework, transfer requirements and financial aid information. The announcement follows Napolitano’s November launch of a different initiative to examine the condition of the transfer process between community colleges and UC campuses.

Napolitano said she hopes the portal will help simplify an often complex undertaking for aspiring college students, recognizing a “lack of coherent information” available to prospective transfer students regarding course requirements and financial aid.

“Transfer should be as streamlined and transparent as possible,” she told the regents.

The three leaders also announced plans to distribute information about financial aid, scholarships and academic requirements to K-12 students and their parents as early as seventh grade in order to improve access to higher education in economically disadvantaged communities, where information about college is often unavailable or unused.

“People should know college is available regardless of their economic circumstances,” Harris said.

The announcement follows a visit by all three leaders to Washington, D.C., last week for a White House summit on college accessibility for low-income students.

But Gov. Jerry Brown, who attended the meeting after delivering his State of the State address in Sacramento only hours earlier, warned that outreach efforts may struggle to gain traction if the K-12 education system does not better prepare high school students for higher education.

“We have to find some way to get students better prepared for college,” Harris said, echoing Brown’s sentiment. “Otherwise, we’re going to leave a generation of students behind.”

The collaborative effort will also seek savings in procurement of construction management, risk management and legal services. By consolidating and centralizing purchases across the system, the three leaders hope to reduce overall procurement costs at each institution.

But Brown asked them and the regents to think more creatively about the future of higher education in the state instead of relying on the aging Master Plan.

Regent George Kieffer reiterated Brown’s desire to develop new educational strategies beyond the plan’s framework.

“We have this tendency to go back to (the Master Plan) and think the problems are the same,” Kieffer said. “But we’re in a different economic time, a different time in terms of growth in California. I think we need to take a little time to define the problems today rather than think they’re the same problems we faced in 1960.”

UC spokesperson Steve Montiel said plans are still in the preliminary stages, and no timeline has yet been approved for any of the three initiatives.

Napolitano, Harris and White will meet again for the California Community Colleges Board of Governors meeting in March, according to Montiel.

Contact Connor Grubaugh at [email protected].