The Future of Public Undergraduate Education in California

by Michael Shires


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In 1960, the California Master Plan for Higher Education set a goal of providing access to every Californian who could benefit from it. As a result of the commitment, California has developed one of the largest most successful public postsecondary education sectors in the nation. State fiscal constraints have combined with exploding population growth, however, to call the state's ability to sustain that goal into question. Several studies have looked at this issue, including two reviews by the State Legislature. This report examines the state's prospects for meeting the goal of the master plan in the context of its future demographic and fiscal environment. The research uses a dynamic simulation model to estimate the target level of education envisioned in the master plan and the levels likely to be attained under a range of scenarios. It finds that the state will not be able to meet nearly half of the target-level demand overall. The study also finds that the prospects of closing this gap through increased revenues, increased fees, and increased productivity are not feasible. It concludes that the state must take two actions: (1) it must reevaluate the access goals of the master plan and focus on ways to maximize the return on its education investment; and (2) the three public systems should focus their resources on restructuring the way in which they deliver the education product to maximize the ability of the state to serve as many citizens as possible.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    California Higher Education Today: Many Fewer Students Served

  • Chapter Three

    California Higher Education Tomorrow: Access Deficits

  • Chapter Four

    Prospects for Closing the Access Deficit

  • Chapter Five

    Conclusions and Implications

  • Appendix

  • Bibliography

This report is part of the RAND Corporation monograph report series. The monograph/report was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1993 to 2003. RAND monograph/reports presented major research findings that addressed the challenges facing the public and private sectors. They included executive summaries, technical documentation, and synthesis pieces.

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