A recent survey of Central California residents shows that while many are pleased with the overall quality of colleges and universities in the region they think strategic changes in statewide educational policies could benefit Valley citizens.

The survey of Central Californians in spring 2001 found most are open to making changes in California’s Master Plan for Higher Education, which calls for strict division of functions between the University of California, the California State University and community colleges.

The survey was conducted by the California State University, Fresno Consortium for Social and Economic Research Centers (CSERC).

“The public cares less about the rules and regulations of the ‘Master Plan’ than it does about high quality, accessible higher education,” said Dr. Fred Evans, dean of the Craig School of Business at Fresno State and author of the research report.

“Our survey is highly significant because of the size of the survey sample and the range of the survey,” Evans said. The survey was conducted among more than 700 randomly selected residents in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties.

In two key findings, 93 percent of Central San Joaquin Valley residents who had an opinion on the issue favored offering doctorate degrees at Fresno State. The state’s Master Plan for Higher Education does not allow CSU campuses to offer the doctorate degree. The survey also indicated that there was similar public support for offering UC-level programs at Fresno State.

There was also strong public support for the development of a new University of California campus in the San Joaquin Valley, with 88 percent of respondents agreeing that a Valley UC campus is needed. The cost of the campus, however, is a concern, with 87 percent agreeing that “the cost to the taxpayer of building the University of California, Merced is an important consideration.”

And 91 percent of Valley residents supported offering University of California programs and degrees on the Fresno State campus if substantial savings were realized.

Evans said that residents who have an opinion on higher education in the region have a very positive view of Valley colleges and universities. He notes, however, that a substantial minority of the population is unable to make a judgment about local higher education. The CSERC researchers reported throughout their survey that many Valley residents were undecided about educational issues in region.

“It speaks to the need to better inform the public about higher education,” Evans said. “For example, our survey revealed that many San Joaquin Valley people think attending public colleges and universities costs much more than it actually does.”

Other key findings of the report:

Community colleges are the institution of choice for many students and adults seeking to continue their education. Of those people surveyed, 46 percent thought the academic quality of Valley community colleges was either above average or among the best.

Valley residents said they had seen improvements in community colleges over the past five years, with 53 percent reporting quality of the colleges as improved and with approximately 11 percent indicating the campuses were “much improved.”

Fresno State also did well in the survey, with 61 percent of Valley residents reporting that the university’s quality was either “one of the best” or “somewhat above average.”

Nearly 70 percent of Valley residents reported that Fresno State’s academic quality had improved over the past five years, with 22 percent indicating it was “much improved.”

Valley residents consistently overestimate the cost of attending a CSU campus. Tuition and fees at Fresno State are just under $2,000 per year; however, 76 percent of survey respondents believed the cost to attend was over $2,000 or more per year. Nearly 32 percent believed it cost more than $5,000 per year.

“Higher education in the Central Valley is held in remarkably high regard,” Evans said. “The community colleges are considered to be of high quality and improving over time.” He said Fresno State is held in especially high regard, with over two thirds of Valley residents surveyed indicating that academic quality has improved over the past five years.