Implementing the Master Plan: Undergraduate Writing Requirements and the Changing Face of California by Carrie K. Wastal
November 24, 2001 Leave a Comment
For those who do not know, California has a tripartite system for public higher education. California’s tiered system is composed of community or two-year colleges, state colleges, and universities. In 1959, California State legislature called on the Liaison Committee of The Regents of the University and the State Board of Education to develop recommendations for public higher education in the upcoming decade. The result was The Master Plan for Higher Education in California, 1970-1985. The committee focused its recommendations on the role of each tier, distribution of undergraduate and graduate students, economic considerations, and the physical plants of new and existing campuses.
Over subsequent decades, administrators, academics, and politicians have reassessed and updated the original Master Plan. This paper quickly outlines the changes in the Master Plan that reflect the shifting cultural, social, and economic concerns in California and in public education. Additionally, it draws attention to the ramifications for student admissions and student demographics at the University of California.
The original Master Plan demonstrates a distinctively economic viewpoint. Concerned with possible competition from private and out-of-state colleges and universities for qualified students and their tuition, the members of the joint committee examined ways to ensure a future student population and a certain quality of education. At the same time, enrollment in all sectors of higher education was rising and expected to continue to increase. As benefactors of public monies, public higher education in California had a legal obligation to accommodate the children of the state’s citizens. Therefore, the plan had to make provisions for a wide range of students and student ability.
Whatever its concern for economic viability, the most far-reaching recommendation of the Master Plan has to do with admissions standards. The 1960s admissions standards determined the distribution of California high school graduates in each tier. According to the standards, the top 12 1/2 per cent of graduates were eligible for admission to the University of California, the top 33 1/3 per cent were eligible to state colleges, and the remaining graduates were relegated to community colleges. This distribution was an attempt to reduce undergraduate enrollment at the University of California, where education is more costly, and disperse undergraduates to community colleges and state colleges, where education is less costly. Yet, it concretizes a hierarchical system of student admissions. In other words, in the plan, more qualified students will be admitted to the University while less qualified students will attend community colleges or state colleges.
Justification for the diversion of undergraduates to the community colleges depended on the following: junior college transfer students achieve higher scholastic records in state colleges and the UCs; community college screens the students most likely to succeed beyond the lower division; and the lower costs of community college as compared to state college and the UC. Yet, the conclusion of that section emphasizes that the community college system is, in the words of the Master Plan, “noteworthy in that it provides high caliber lower division education . . . at a cost to the state much below that which can be offered by either of the other publicly controlled segments . . .” (65).
The Liaison Committee acknowledges that a myriad of factors prevent many high school graduates from entering higher education. Such factors as incentive, early marriage, military service, and financial resources are listed. Financial resources could be read as an indicator of class, since some students cannot afford the costs of attending a UC. However, the word class is not used in the original Master Plan. The closest the plan comes is a series of recommendations for scholarships, including “subsistence scholarships.” Economics and student quality as a justification for the exclusion of the majority of California high school graduates stands as the Plan’s primary focus.
Race is also not mentioned in the original Master Plan despite society’s growing concern with Civil Rights during the late 1950s and 1960s. Race, as a factor for admissions, remains unarticulated until later versions of the Master Plan.
The original Master Plan was not above recommending coercion when it suggested that counselors redirect some students into community college by selling them on its benefits. The words of the plan state, “Whether by conviction or coercion, or both, the segments must divert students from overcrowded institutions to those with unused capacity” (81). It is understood that this action should take place even if it means that some students will have to abandon their plans for higher education. It also means that the Master Plan authorizes high school counselors to determine if that student can succeed at the UC. In this scenario, a decision about education that may have belonged to the family is pre-empted.
Subsequent work on the Master Plan better reflects society’s increasing concern with issues of equal opportunity and affirmative action. Later versions of the Master Plan raise race as a factor in admissions. The advent of affirmative action and the adoption of California Legislature Resolution 151 (1974), which requires public higher education to reflect the ethnic makeup of high school graduates, brought race to the forefront of admissions discussions. Ironically, by the early 1980s, new Master Plan recommendations clearly separate out Asian students from African American, Latino, and Native American students. In other words, the Master Plan does not consider Asian students to be underrepresented, which is a precursor of the position of the UC during the admissions controversy at Berkeley in the mid 1980s. Briefly, the 1984 fall admissions rate of Asian Americans fell dramatically despite indications of a rise in Asian American population. Asian American community groups suspected that this fall was the result of a deliberate and hidden shift in administrative policy. The ensuing admissions controversy lasted several years.
Arguably, the Master Plan attempts to balance rigorous admissions standards, fairness in admissions, and California’s economic realities in planning for public higher education. Various versions of the Master Plan constitute efforts to implement legislative mandates in different eras of public higher education. Of course such efforts are not unique to California. Rather, they are indicative of the requirement that teachers and administrators implement the recommendations of legislative mandates. This seems particularly important given the ubiquitous presence and often-contested role of writing and writing requirements in the admissions process of higher education.
 Assembly Concurrent Resolution 151—Relative to public higher education: “Requests governing authority of various institutions of public higher education to prepare a plan providing for addressing and overcoming, by 1980, ethnic, sexual, and economic underrepresentation in the makeup of the student bodies of institutions of public higher education, and to submit such plan to the California Postsecondary Education Commission by July 1, 1975, and request similar reports annually thereafter.” Resolution 151 also states that institutions of public higher education should use “experimentation to discover alternate means of evaluating student potential.”