The Legislative Analyst’s Office has a report on the California Master Plan at fifty, or nearly fifty—guess they figured they’d better hurry, the MP might not outlast forty-nine, the way things are going. Some key conclusions:

Key higher education funding decisions have been made without the benefit of clear state policy guidance. For example, the state has no formal policy to guide the setting of student fees at the public colleges and universities. As a result, fee levels have been unpredictable and volatile, with little alignment to the cost of instruction or to students’ ability to pay. Similarly, the state lacks a policy for funding enrollment growth at the public universities. For the past several years, the state budget has not specified any particular enrollment level at the universities, instead allowing the universities’ governing boards to decide for themselves how much enrollment to support with their funding. Moreover, there is not even consensus among state policymakers as to what it does or should cost to educate a university student.

The state’s Cal Grant financial aid programs have been somewhat more consistently funded, generally adhering to statutory eligibility criteria and fully covering educational fees for students at public institutions. However, the state’s ability to meet these commitments has been threatened as the Governor and others have sought to reduce or even eliminate Cal Grant benefits as a way to address the state’s budget deficit. Moreover, recent state budgets have departed from statutory guidelines for setting Cal Grant levels for students at nonpublic institutions.

Some components of the state’s higher education apparatus have also declined or are under threat of elimination. For example, the California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC)—the state agency charged with coordinating the state’s higher education efforts—saw its budget and staffing reduced by almost half in 2003, and several past and current bills have sought to eliminate or radically change the commission. Meanwhile, a state law that provided for regulation of for–profit private colleges was allowed to expire, leaving these colleges to operate without state oversight for over two years. (Legislation was passed in fall 2009 that would establish a new regulatory bureau and framework for 2010.)

Finally, demographic changes have altered the types of higher education challenges the state faces. At the time of the Master Plan’s adoption, the state sought to contend with an anticipated “tidal wave” of students seeking access to higher education. Today, the state is facing projected shortages of college graduates and is seeking ways to increase college enrollment. At the same time, incoming students are less prepared for college, resulting in college completion rates far lower than they were 50 years ago.

Overall, the state’s vision for its higher education system is less cohesive than it was a half century ago. There is little methodical state oversight and planning, and the linkage between state budget decisions and policy goals is weak. Instead, the individual segments of higher education are largely left to develop their own policies according to their own priorities, with little guidance from state policymakers.

There supposed to be a new plan, maybe in time for Christmas.

Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge (Los Angeles County), who chairs the Assembly Higher Education Committee, said those conversations have already begun in preparation for hearings on overhauling the Master Plan, possibly in December.

“California has dramatically changed in 50 years,” Portantino said. “We need to make sure the promises made are kept.”

Ricardo Gomez of the UC Student Association agrees. But the Cal undergrad is skeptical that conversations and hearings will change the fundamental problem.

“We’ve been lobbying legislators for years telling them that UC is not living up to the Master Plan,” said Gomez, legislative affairs chair for the association.

“We can talk about innovative solutions, but at the end of the day it comes down to fully funding higher education,” he said. “The state needs to increase its revenues.”