Council Report Warns on Budget
It is no secret that California faces profound budget shortfalls this year. What precisely that means for the University of California is more difficult to discern: The governor originally proposed a 10% after-“Compact” funding cut to UC in his 2008-09 state budget, which represents a 3.4% net reduction to 2007-08 funding levels; the governor’s May revision of the budget restored approximately $98.5 million, but many fear that may be too little as it is still $343.7 million short of the operating budget proposed by The Regents last fall.
Prior to the May revise, the Academic Council endorsed the Report on the Cuts Proposed by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, also known as the “Cuts Report,” which was prepared by the University Committee on Planning and Budget (UCPB). In doing so, the Council noted that these “cuts threaten the University with damage to educational quality and to its ability to contribute to the public good….” The Council observed that, in the short-term, maintaining educational quality without additional state support could necessitate increasing student fees to an estimated $10,500 for 2008-09. Alternatively, in order to maintain even the “already-reduced levels of per-student support, the University will in the near future need to respond to cuts by limiting enrollments.”
Furthermore, the proposed cuts come at a time when the University, unlike other state agencies, has yet to recover from previous cuts in the 1990s and early 2000s. Senate Chair Michael Brown, in discussing potential responses to the cuts, has remarked that “The Cuts Report and UPCB’s underlying analyses show in stark terms that the University has been facing a damaging general fund shortfall, even before the present round of proposed cuts, from which we have never recovered. New cuts now will damage three important things: quality, access, and affordability. We need to reinvigorate state support for the institution; the Cuts Report makes clear that we cannot make up for this shortfall through private investment or fee increases.”
Moreover, this situation is not unique to UC. A Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability report, “The Growing Imbalance: Recent Trends in U.S. Postsecondary Education Finance”, illustrates how the erosion of state funds has led to a reliance on tuition to cover increasing percentages of operating costs: nearly half in 2005, up from 37% in 1998 at four-year public institutions. Jane V. Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project, has stated that “[public universities] can’t fund raise their way out of this.” And raising student fees 10% per annum is a practice that cannot be sustained politically.
Thus, the announcement of a coordinated advocacy campaign by the UC, CSU, and the California community college systems is well-timed. This campaign aims to demonstrate clearly to both the legislature and the public the impact California’s higher education system has on technology, health and medicine, energy and transportation, agriculture and the environment, as well as culture and the community. More information on this effort is available online: www.universityofcalifornia.edu/ucthewayforward .
By endorsing the “Cuts Report,” Council called on the Office of the President to (1) oppose publicly the proposed cuts, (2) coordinate with the state’s other higher education segments a systematic public and governmental education campaign, (3) commit to a minimum level of per-student support not lower that 2007-08 levels and aiming to return to 2001-02 levels, (4) illustrate that even committing to 2007-08 per-student funding levels will necessitate limiting enrollments, and (5) disclose publicly the “true level” of student fees required to fund the Regents’ 2007-08 budget, which was reduced from 2006-07 levels even before the Governor’s cuts were proposed. While some of these recommendations have been realized, more work remains to secure higher levels of state funding.
It is critical to note that while other state agencies have recovered from state budget cuts earlier in the decade, UC has not. Further, the cuts, as originally proposed, would total over $400 million in post-Compact funding, necessitating a 45% increase in student fees to compensate fully. Without full funding, the cuts would preclude all of The Regents’ and the faculty’s priorities and would hasten the redefinition of the University into a “public-private partnership,” increasingly reliant on high student fees to fund its core educational mission. Finally, because cuts in state funding are likely to continue in subsequent years, it is feared that such reduced investment will likely lead to a lowering in the quality of UC’s core activities – teaching, research, and public service.
The “Cuts Report” follows a previous report, Current Budget Trends and the Future of the University of California, aka, the “Future’s Report,” also based on analysis by UCPB, which was endorsed by and issued simultaneously with a resolution by the Academic Council, Safeguarding the University’s Future: A Resolution of the Academic Council on Returning UC to a Sound Fiscal Base.
-- Ken Feer
Jaschik, Scott. “The Spending Side of the Equation.” Inside Higher Ed, May 1, 2008 (no page given), online at http://insidehigheree.com/news/2008/05/01/spending (accessed May 13, 2008).