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The Master Plan

Decentralizing the University

Student Unrest

The Steady State

Planning for Hard Times

The Tax Revolt

Bakke vs. The Regents of the University of California

New Intellectual Horizons

The Booming 1980s

A Pacific Rim State

Growth Again

Conflicts and Controversies

The University Under Fire


Chapter 19: The Master Plan

California was growing—at a rate of 500,000 citizens a year—and so was the University. When Clark Kerr became President in 1958, UC had 47,000 students and was expected to enroll almost 130,000 by 1975. The state colleges and the community colleges would be adding even greater numbers.

Yet the unproductive competition in California higher education that President Sproul had contended with raged unabated, with no general agreement about how responsibilities would be divided for accommodating the imminent tidal wave of students. It was clear that if higher education did not respond quickly, the legislature, impelled by a growing sense of crisis, would act on its own.

In 1959, President Kerr proposed that the State Board of Education and the Regents meet jointly to launch a new planning study that would ensure access for students during the years of growth while avoiding costly duplication of effort within higher education. Soon thereafter, the legislature passed a resolution formally asking the State Board of Education and the University to work on a plan for the orderly expansion of California higher education in the decades ahead.

The result was the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education in California, approved in principle by the Regents and the State Board in December 1959. Key portions of the Master Plan were enacted into law as the Donahoe Higher Education Act and signed by Governor Edmund G. Brown on April 14, 1960.

The Master Plan formalized the mission and pool of students for each of the three public segments of higher education—UC, the state colleges, and the community colleges. UC was to draw its undergraduates from the top one-eighth of California high school graduates and was given near-exclusive authority for doctoral and professional education and advanced research. The state colleges admitted their students from the top one-third of high school graduates and had responsibility for education through the master's degree. There was also a provision for offering joint doctorates with the University of California or an independent institution. The community colleges were to take any student over eighteen who could benefit from study and to offer vocational education and academic instruction through the first two years of college, including offering the opportunity to transfer to a four-year college or university.

The Master Plan reaffirmed California's commitment, forged during the Progressive era early in the century, to offer a place at a public college or university to every citizen with the talent and ambition to succeed. One measure of the Master Plan's success is that during the more than forty years since its approval the quality of the state's educational system, despite the pressures of growth, has not declined but risen.

As early as 1962, news of California's Master Plan attracted visitors from other countries seeking models for expanding their higher-education systems. A 1988 team of international visitors from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development observed that California had succeeded in encouraging "constructive competition and cooperation" among its colleges and universities, and praised the "complex of creativity" that makes the California system an exemplar for countries around the world.15 The social, cultural, and economic advantages such a system has given California are enormous. Many of those advantages are a result of the Master Plan for Higher Education, which the legislature has periodically reviewed but never replaced.

Clark Kerr described the Master Plan as a structure for planning rather than a formal plan, a treaty among competing interests, and a vision of broad educational opportunity for a democratic, technological, and meritocratic society. In the simplicity and effectiveness with which it unites access and excellence, the Master Plan is also one of the great organizational ideas of twentieth-century higher education.


15. Sheldon Rothblatt, ed., The OECD, the Master Plan, and the California Dream (Berkeley, 1992), p. 45.




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The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
Last updated 09/29/05.