The California Legislature and Governor Newsom are interested in creating a new coordinating entity for the state’s public higher education system. The state has been without such an entity since 2011, when Governor Brown vetoed funding for the California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC). A new coordinating entity can help the governor and legislature improve higher education by providing expertise and analysis. But it will require policymakers to provide a solid foundation for its work.
California’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education gives the three state public higher education segments—the University of California, the California State University, and the California Community Colleges—significant autonomy. CPEC was created to help policymakers conduct long-term planning, monitor student outcomes, and oversee intersegmental policies that make it easier for students to navigate through the college and university systems. A new PPIC report looks at the strengths and weaknesses of CPEC to provide suggestions about how to make a new coordinating entity as effective as possible.
CPEC’s experience underlines the need for clear state goals and objectives. A higher education coordinating body can advocate effectively for student success and assess how well the segments are meeting the needs of the state economy. But higher education in California has changed significantly over the past several decades, and the Master Plan is either silent or outdated in important areas.
CPEC’s history also shows that the details of the coordinating entity’s design are important in giving it a strong, unified voice in the budget and policy process. A coordinating entity should be empowered to monitor whether the state’s higher education goals are being met and suggest ways to make the system more effective. When the segments fall short or when there are conflicts about how best to accomplish state goals, the coordinating entity should be able to work with the colleges, universities, and state policymakers to find workable solutions.
In this time of heightened demand for higher education, the governor and legislature could benefit from a coordinating body that acts as an honest broker in helping the state provide access to all interested students while maintaining the quality of public higher education that California is known for.