Legislature Should Fund, Not Micro-manage UC

Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine
Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman is a former California State Senator and Assemblyman, and Levine is a former U.S. Congressman and State Assemblyman.

The University of California is the Golden State’s ultimate success story, but there is always room for improvement. Certainly, there is broad consensus around the goals of admitting more California students and for increasing diversity. These goals, however, are not going to be advanced by legislative micro-managing and more shortfalls in State financial support for UC and the California State University system.

The latest example of misguided meddling is an out of the blue proposal for a six-year plan to increase UC enrollment of California residents by 30,000, while reducing the number of out of state students by 10,000 and further reducing the State funding per student.. The devil is in the details or, in some cases, the lack of details.

*   Half of the cost for accommodating the new in-state enrollment would be achieved through increased State General support and unspecified efficiencies and savings by the University. In other words, instead of the State funding the $10,000 per student required for increasing enrollment, the plan calls for only $6,900—a 20% reduction in State support.

* Out of state students already pay tuition and fees about three times the amount paid by California residents. This has produced a significant revenue source for UC educational operations. The 6-year plan would theoretically offset the lost revenue from the 10,000 reduction in out of state enrollment, by significantly boosting tuition and fees for the remaining out of staters—an optimistic estimate at best.

*   The proposal does not take into account the housing and dining accommodations for 20,000 additional students—facilities that are not financed by the State

*   No provision is made for capital investment to cover the costs of new classrooms and laboratories. UC already has about $3 billion in facility projects that require funds and a $1.5 billion backlog of deferred maintenance needs. The legislative plan does not address existing capital needs, let alone what will be required for an additional 20,000 students.

* The six-year plan does not take into account support for more graduate students, who are integral to both under-graduate education and research.

* The proposal includes the imposition of an Inspector General for UC—an additional layer of bureaucracy that is unlikely to produce significant benefits, since UC has already made and is continuing to make great strides in reducing expenses and achieving greater efficiencies.

* The proposal does not take into account the logistical viability of increasing enrollment—the equivalent of adding a new campus—in a six-year time frame. Neither does it do anything to advance efforts to improve diversity on UC campuses.

The 6-year plan, proposed by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) was rushed through his Assembly Budget Sub-committee without public notice or consultation with UC. Since this idea wouldn’t take effect until the 2017-18 fiscal year, what is the rush? Do we really want to transform our high quality research campuses into diploma mills? This kind of drastic change deserves thoughtful consideration and involvement of UC, other higher education stakeholders and the community.

The University is a standout by any measure of performance. It is constantly ranked as the top public research university in the world. A New York Times survey found that six of the seven colleges doing the most for low income students were UC campuses, including the top five. UC is a pillar of the state’s economy and a source of creativity and innovation. UC is the gateway to a better life for succeeding generations of Californians.

It is far more important for the Legislature, in this year’s Budget deliberations, to address the funding needs of our entire system of public higher education. UC capital and deferred maintenance needs should certainly be on the table. CSU requires an additional $100 million to avoid turning away thousands of eligible California students. Tinkering with the systems won’t get the job done. Additional State investment will.

Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine are Co-chairs of the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman is a former legislator who served as State Senate Republican Leader. Levine is a former Democratic member of the State Assembly and Congress. Both are graduates of UC Berkeley.

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