uc_color_logo.jpgLooking down the barrel of a budget deficit projected to reach $2.5 billion over the next four years, the University of California Board of Regents deliberated today a proposal to develop a multi-year funding plan with the state.

Although the proposal outlined $1 billion in solutions that would be achieved through exploration of funding streams and the institution of academic efficiencies, the university is bracing for a $1.5 billion remainder that could potentially fall on the backs of students.

The university is looking for renewed assurance from the state that it will provide long-term funding to ensure that the university remains competitive and is able to plan for long-term investments, such as expanding academic programs, enrolling students, and hiring and tenuring faculty.

“The swings in state support, now deeper and of longer durations, have made it impossible to react to changing events while maintaining a longer term vision,” Executive Vice President Nathan Brostrom and Vice President Patrick Lenz wrote in the proposal.

Under the worst-case scenario, the proposal anticipates that undergraduate in-state tuition could reach as much as $22,000 in four years. Undergraduate students now pay $12,192 per year.

If the state does not increase funding it provides to the university, the $1.5 billion would come from a 16 percent annual tuition hike for the next four years, according to the proposal.

Otherwise, the gap would be patched with a combination of tuition hikes and state funding, depending on how much the Legislature could pledge to provide to the UC system.

The university’s budget problems date back to 2008, when the state reneged on a six-year funding compact that had been established while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in office.

State support for education on a per-student basis has decreased by 60 percent since 1990, based on inflation-adjusted dollars. The state currently contributes $6,770 per student. In 1990, the state contributed $16,720 per student.

“The one thing this board should stand tall on is the quality of the education,” UC President Mark Yudof said.

Several members today expressed the need for realism in devising a plan.

Saying that he had little faith that the state economy would recover enough to prevent continued cuts to education, ex officio regent Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said that the proposal should be rejected because the possibility of tuition hikes would make it hard to gain public support needed to apply pressure to the Legislature.

Many regents–including Newsom–advocated exploration of other options, ranging from seeking unrestricted corporate endowments to fund scholarships to launching a campaign to educate the public about the economic importance of the university.

“I have no faith in Sacramento to ever do the right thing,” said Chairman Richard Blum, who added that the board should stop chasing down the state and instead court corporations that would be willing to write checks to the university.

A report given earlier in the morning indicated that UC generates $46.3 billion in annual economic activity for the state and supports approximately 430,000 jobs–or one out of every 46 jobs–in California.

The university often paves the way for innovation and economic growth, according to the report, and Newsom pointed out that the UCSF Mission Bay campus where the meetings were held this week created an anchor for the fledgling neighborhood.

The campus’ presence has been instrumental, Newsom said, in attracting private businesses to the neighborhood that only a few years ago was one of the few remaining swaths of undeveloped land in San Francisco.

“The numbers are wildly understated” in terms of the economic contribution the university makes to the state, Newsom said.

The problem of reduced state support is not unique to the UC system, he said, noting that educational institutions at all levels–K-12, community colleges, the California State University system, and UC–are fighting individual struggles against the Legislature.

Instead, he said, they should collaborate to create institutional change to reestablish investing in education as a state priority.

“You wanna go fast, you go alone. You wanna go far, you go together,” Newsom said.

Regent Eddie Island said that the board needs to demonstrate to the Legislature and the public the consequences of their actions, namely condoning cuts to education while voting to increase funding for other services, such as corrections.

Immediately before the committee on finance meeting where the impassioned discussions took place, the regents revisited how fees are assessed for the other category of UC students–graduate students.

Specifically, members discussed the potential to hike academic graduate tuition–not considering professional and medical programs–to levels that would be on par with public universities in other states such as Michigan and Virginia.

Island said that what works for other states would not necessarily work here because of California’s economics and demographics and UC’s mandate to educate millions of underrepresented students.

“This board has work to do,” Island said.

Patricia Decker, Bay City News

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