By Donna Hemmila
The leaders of California's three higher education systems delivered a sobering message about funding and accessibility today (Dec. 7) to a legislative committee reviewing the state's master plan for its public universities and colleges.
UC President Mark Yudof joined California State University Chancellor Charles Reed and California Community College Chancellor Jack Scott in testifying before the Joint Legislative Committee to Review the Master Plan for Higher Education.
Against a backdrop of a state deficit projected to grow to $20.7 billion, legislators are reviewing the 50-year-old plan to determine if it should be revised to reflect the state's changing needs and population.
The three higher education leaders were unanimous in their opinion: The plan does not need structural changes, just a stronger commitment from the state to fund it.
"Our perils are real and they are immediate," Yudof said, citing the massive cuts in UC programs, rising student fees and the threat of prominent faculty leaving for better-supported universities.
"It takes decades to create great universities," Yudof said. "But they can be destroyed in a very short time."
All three higher education systems experienced steep state budget cuts in the last year, with UC seeing 20 percent of its state funding sliced from its operating budget. In its request for 2010-11 state funding, UC is asking for an increase of $913 million to restore money the state has cut and mandatory costs it does not fund such as employee retirement and student enrollment growth. UC has 14,000 students for which the state provides no funding.
The master plan was first approved in April 1960 when California was preparing to deal with a tidal wave of college-age baby boomers and its public universities and colleges were embarking on major expansions.
The plan set out a process for approving new campus locations, basic distinctions among the three systems in the type of programs each offers and the academic level of students each segment would serve. The plan called for UC to enroll students from the top 12.5 percent of high school graduating classes, CSU the top 33 percent and community colleges to accept all level of students. The plan dictates that only UC grant doctoral degrees.
The master plan also made a commitment to providing a tuition-free higher education to all state residents. Over the years, that tuition-free concept eroded as funding challenges forced the universities and colleges to institute fees and students to assume a greater part of their education costs.
The California Legislative Analyst Office recently issued a report calling for more legislative oversight over the universities. Steve Boilard, the LAO director of higher education, told the joint committee that the state lacks a policy for setting students fees and enrollment growth and instead leaves that up to each of the three systems.
"There has been so much disruption of higher education because of this fiscal crisis," Boilard said. "The state's vision of higher education has been somewhat blurred."
"The master plan is not broken," Reed told the legislators. "There are ways to tweak it, fix it, make it up-to-date, but its core values of accessibility and affordability are intact. As you deliberate, make sure it is about students. The future of California is tied to those students."
At a media conference after their testimony, the higher education leaders gave examples of some ways the master plan could be tweaked.
The traditional breakdown of the top 12.5 percent of high school students being UC eligible and 33 percent CSU eligible could be re-examined, Yudof said. Reed said the transfer between community colleges and CSU and UC could be improved with changes such as universal course codes so students would know which classes transfer to four-year schools.
Yudof outlined ways UC has dealt with the state cutbacks: downsizing of the Office of the President by a third of its work force, a systemwide employee furlough program to reduce payroll, cost-efficiency savings and cuts to campus programs.
UC's increases in financial aid programs such as the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan and Project You Can, a 10-campus $1 billion fundraising effort to support scholarships, are helping offset higher student fees, Yudof said. He also is advocating for a greater financial role for the federal government is supporting the nation's public universities and colleges.
The main change Yudof said he'd like to see in the master plan would be for the state to begin fully funding it.
Donna Hemmila is managing editor with with the Integrated Communications division of the UC Office of the President.