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UC money trail strewn with bumps

Gov. Jerry Brown’s remarks to the University of California Regents at their meeting on Nov. 14 were hardly amiable.

UC had asked for more money than the 5 percent increase Brown gave them in this year’s budget. Brown said the Legislature would grant no more and “that’s kind of the reality sandwich that we have to chew on.”

Despite his harsh tone, however, Brown did not want to be seen as the enemy but, rather, the messenger: “That’s just the report from the big bad state,” he concluded. “I’m going to help you. I’m your friend.”

Optimistic projections by the Legislative Analyst’s Office and the successful outcomes at this year’s budget negotiations prompted UC to seek more funding.

The Regents’ meeting marked a key moment in the governor’s struggle to remain a crusader for education and still maintain some pragmatism with the budget.

The increase Brown granted in this year’s budget was relatively modest but desperately needed to fill some gaps for UC. The increase is a multi-year, unallocated offering, 5 percent for the first two years and 4 percent in the two fiscal years following.

Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown

The increase provided $125 million for the floundering system in 2013-2014 and will given it an additional $142.2 million in 2014-2015. But the universities’ administration says it needs at least an additional $120 million above that to meet basic needs. Optimistic projections by the Legislative Analyst’s Office and the successful outcomes at this year’s budget negotiations prompted UC to seek more funding.

But Assemblymember Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, compared the situation to a household that must manage its higher income for future investments.

“Our priority is to serve more students and to serve the students we have at an affordable rate,” Williams said. “If they want more investment they do need to continue to look at that, responding to the state’s priorities.”

“UC has had a poor history of accepting and understanding the importance of transparency in an open government. They continue to operate in secrecy,” he said.

The Legislature is not only concerned about the precarious fiscal improvement the state has made but additionally is seeking more transparency regarding how UC spends its state funding.

UC has offered a breakdown of how it will spend the total $267.1 million, according to H.D. Palmer of the Department of Finance. The majority of the funds go to cover employer contributions to retirement and enrollment growth.

Despite that disclosure and other programs to make the university more cost-efficient, the relationship between UC and the capitol is strained.

“The trust is no longer there,” said Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. Yee has spearheaded efforts to bring more transparency to UC but believes the changes must be more systemic.

“UC has had a poor history of accepting and understanding the importance of transparency in an open government. They continue to operate in secrecy,” he said. “There needs to be a change in the culture. I haven’t seen that yet.”

Yee and Williams both noted a major concern that UC President Janet Napolitano addressed through a proposed tuition freeze: accessibility.

On all sides, public figures have addressed the need to ensure that UC can deal with enrollment growth and provide options for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Much of UC’s reliance on student fees has been recent, in 1990, the portion of core funds from student fees was 39 percent. That percentage has skyrocketed to 49 percent in the last couple decades.

The burden placed on students has been one of the most public and widespread symptoms of the system’s financial woes in the last few years, prompting officials to make their needs a priority.

“UC is not there to educate the rich and famous, UC is there to educate everyone,” Yee said. “Many parents pay taxes all of their lives hoping that their kids will be able to attend a UC only to find that their qualified students have to go somewhere else to receive their education.”

“We similarly need to invest more in our community college systems,” Williams added, pointing out that many UC and CSU system students come from community colleges.

Though the system has a comprehensive financial aid program, the increases in tuition have already been drastic. For example, Regent Richard Blum attended UC Berkeley when tuition was about $50 per semester — adjusted for inflation, around $400 today.

In fact, students today pay over $12,000 a year.

Much of UC’s reliance on student fees has been recent, in 1990, the portion of core funds from student fees was 39 percent. That percentage has skyrocketed to 49 percent in the last couple decades.

“There’s no state in the country that has anything remotely like the University of California,” Napolitano said at the Regents’ meeting. “We have to fight for it.”
But such drastic changes beg the question of whether or not Napolitano’s desire to preserve the system is realistic.

“I also think its reasonable for them to be asking for more than a 5% increase to [be more efficient], so that these systems which have been starved for a long time do not break down.” he said.

The relationship between Sacramento and the UC system is tense, and as Brown emphasized in his remarks, needs to be strengthened for there to be progress in negotiating a budget and getting the system back on track. Williams pointed out that while lawmakers call for more efficiency from the system, without more money, meeting demands may be difficult given UC’s current situation.

“I also think its reasonable for them to be asking for more than a 5% increase to [be more efficient], so that these systems which have been starved for a long time do not break down.” he said.

But that understanding is strained by the distrust in UC in the Legislature.

“I am very supportive of UC getting more money,” Yee said. He added a caveat, however.

“If the money is directed towards lavish spending [in the Office of the President or upper administration]…I’m not there.”


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