California’s Master Plan for Higher Education envisioned a cohesive “system.” But California higher education is in fact more of a loose federation rather than a unified system. In earlier decades, this loose federation served the needs of the sectors and the state reasonably well. But since then, California’s economy has changed, its demographics have changed, and more students than ever are seeking college degrees.
The state has taken steps to create more coherence and transparency, but the core problem remains: California’s higher education sectors do not coordinate and rarely adopt policies that enhance cross-sector alignment. The result is a misaligned system that hinders students’ ability to properly prepare for college, creates dead-end pathways, and promotes inefficient student “wandering” and accumulation of excess units.
Just as troubling, the lack of coordination and alignment across sectors contributes to massive inefficiencies systemwide. State and student time and money is wasted as students stop and start their educational path and fall through the cracks. The state’s lack of a cohesive postsecondary infrastructure has even impeded proper diagnosis of the problem: we do not have good information on how students move to and through postsecondary education or what kinds of cross-sector student success practices could more effectively address their needs. This paper by Amy Supinger presents: (1) an overview of the core challenges facing higher education in California, focusing on the academic and fiscal issues created or aggravated by the absence of critical building blocks for an effective policy and financing system: cross-sector coordination and the policy infrastructure and financing strategy that would support it; and (2) offers policy recommendations for strengthening cross-sector collaboration and most importantly, options for financing this work.