UC boots deadlines to disclose spending

Students at UC Berkeley walk for their diplomas during graduation ceremonies. (Photo: Richard Thornton)

Missing its own deadlines, the University of California is now more than two months behind in disclosing to the state Legislature and the Department of Finance details of its expenses.

The 10-campus university system first failed to meet an Oct. 1 deadline. It then submitted a seven-page preliminary account on Oct. 31 while requesting an additional six weeks to complete a final report. Those six weeks expired on Dec. 11.

The intent of the law was to give the public greater knowledge about how the universities spend money.

Finance Department spokesman H.D. Palmer said the Brown administration “hopes and expects” to receive the report this week. The Department of Finance (DoF) writes the administration’s budget proposals.

UC spokesperson Dianne Klein didn’t say whether the  report would be completed this week, but said the university is “in close contact with DoF and we’re all on the same page …  we’re doing it as quickly as we can, and of course accuracy is key here.”

State law requires California’s two public university systems, UC and the California State University, to biennially report on “the total costs of education at the university on a system-wide and campus-by-campus basis,” according to a 2013 bill, AB 94. The bill, authored by the budget committee, was a “trailer” bill to the state budget, a measure that contains provisions required to put the budget into effect. The intent of the law was to give the public greater knowledge about how the universities spend money.

UC’s Board of Regents recently approved a 28% tuition hike through 2020, pending additional higher education funding in the state budget. UC’s failure to meet the reporting deadlines and the information it ultimately provides is likely to play a role in Capitol negotiations over the 2015-16 budget among key lawmakers who want the university to justify its spending. Brown will present his budget draft to the Legislature in January.

The pending report is also intended to help university attendees and prospects in planing their path through higher education.

“It’s an important piece of data for not only the governor, the administration or for legislators,” Palmer said, “but for students and their families to find out exactly what the cost of instruction is for a particular field.”

But disaggregating, or parsing down, student data collected by UC into specific subgroups is a lengthy process and is the reason for the report’s delay, noted UC.

“The way the legislation is crafted, they want the data in certain ways and that’s what they’re working on, the so-called disaggregation of the data,” Klein said.

In June, UC Legislative Director Nadia Leal-Carillo sent a letter to Assemblyman Das Williams, (D – Santa Barbara), at the time the chair of the Committee on Higher Education, describing the process as “an extremely complicated issue demanding large amounts of staff time.”

UC historically has bundled its expenditures and called that number the “average cost of instruction.” The new report would break down expenditures in order to compare the cost of undergraduates vs. graduates, or student instruction vs. research.

Under the AB 94 law, the UC system is required under to identify costs at each of its campuses every two years.

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