Gov. Brown’s budget calls for changes in UC policy

Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2013-14 budget increases state funding to the University of California and attempts to influence university policy.

Included in the governor’s budget is a $125 million increase in state funding for the UC system. This continues the trend of increasing state contributions to the university begun last year.

Another aspect of Brown’s budget is a funding plan that guarantees funding increases for the university for the next four years. The plan would provide the university with a 5 percent increase for 2013-14 and 2014-15 and a 4 percent increase for the following two years.

The UC system would benefit from a more predictable and less volatile funding schedule, according to the 2013-14 UC Budget for Current Operations. However, the $125 million unrestricted increases for this year amount to less than half of the 12 percent increases requested by the university last year.

The gap has caused worry that universities might have to turn to fee increases to maintain a similar level of spending.

“Even with this funding, we are still a long way from where we need to be,” said Raquel Morales, president of the UC Student Association, in a press release. “Students are deeply concerned that the gap in revenue will again be shouldered by students and their families in increased tuition.”

However, the budget could allocate an additional $125 million if tuition remains constant through the end of the academic year, providing an incentive against future fee hikes.

“Undergraduate tuition increases are largely off the table,” said UC President Mark Yudof at the UC Board of Regents meeting on Thursday.

No such arrangements exist to protect graduate and professional programs from fee increases, however.
“We seem to be fighting to keep undergraduate fees down, but what will it take to freeze professional tuition in the next couple years?” said Student Regent Jonathan Stein.

Freezes may not be the best solution for the university, however. According to a report published by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, long-term tuition freezes may actually be harmful to students trying to plan for the future.

“Extended tuition freezes help students who are currently in school but often lead to larger increases and greater tuition volatility for future students,” the LAO report reads. “A long term policy to maintain or gradually change tuition would result in more modest and predictable tuition changes for students and their families.”

Another important provision in Brown’s budget is a $10 million earmark for developing online and technology-based courses. Brown and many of the regents see online courses as an important source of future revenue and cost savings. The university has already implemented UC Online, a systemwide program that offers online courses for credit accepted at all UC campuses.

“I think we should think about the day when maybe 10 or 15 percent of the courses taken by each undergrad would be online,” said Yudof. “We can lower our marginal cost, live within our means and keep tuition down.”

The budget also establishes a cap limiting the number of units students can accrue to 225 quarterly units before they become ineligible for state-subsidized tuition. According to the budget, the cap would encourage students to reach their educational goals in a timely manner and increase access for others.

Brown will now have to convince the state Legislature that his plans for higher education and the state merit passage. State senators and Assembly members will debate the various provisions until early May. The budget will be finalized in June, and the 2013-14 fiscal year begins July 1.

Jacob Brown is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected].