SAN FRANCISCO -- A half-century-old plan to give all California high school graduates access to a tuition-free college education might look quaint to students who now pay tens of thousands of dollars for a degree, but its principles are as important as ever, college leaders said Wednesday.
Gov. Jerry Brown and the three new leaders of California's three public college segments -- the University of California, California State University and California Community Colleges -- met on Wednesday before the UC Regents to revisit the famous document -- and talk about how to apply it today.
"We have a window of opportunity in the next three to five years in California to get this right," said California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris.
The California Master Plan for Higher Education came out in 1960 when the state was bracing itself for an influx of college-bound baby boomers. Today, California has a new set of challenges: Its knowledge-based economy demands a more educated population, but a large number of high school graduates -- 77 percent of those who go to community college -- aren't prepared for college-level work, and the colleges are still recovering from years of shrinking state subsidies.
The original plan "was at that time a bit of a fire drill," said UC President Janet Napolitano. "Now we have our own fire. We must look at the master plan in terms of how we collaborate, how we cooperate."
Among the ideas discussed: A personalized Web portal for students that helps them track their progress and plan which courses to take; more outreach to K-12 schools; and saving money on purchasing and other operations by having the three segments team up in some areas, such as risk and construction management.
"As we cooperate more and more, we're going to see an increasingly seamless movement between our institutions," Harris said.
Brown said he might convene more meetings to envision the future of higher education in the state -- sessions which Napolitano said she would "be there with bells on."
But the governor also urged the leaders to use their "intellectual imagination" as they consider expanding college access. Earlier in the meeting, he called for more UC experimentation in online courses that require no human interaction.
"If we're going to think about the master plan, we have to step back a little bit and think about what it is we're doing ... because it is expensive," Brown said.
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