Legislative Analyst’s Office criticizes Brown’s plans for higher education

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The Legislative Analyst’s Office criticized major portions of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget for higher education in a report published Tuesday.

The report recommends that the state Legislature reject several provisions of Brown’s budget. Brown’s proposals include increasing funding to the UC system by $250 million and freezing tuition for the next four years.

According to the report, a tuition freeze may lead to steeper tuition increases for future students. The freeze may defer underlying increases in the cost of education that would need to be paid for eventually.

“When the state’s done it in the past, usually it keeps for a couple years, but when there’s another economic downturn, then you’ll see a huge spike in tuition,” said LAO higher education analyst Paul Golaszewski. “What we think is a better idea is doing moderate, steady increases. They are predictable and would help decrease volatility.”

Still, students question the university’s ability to remain affordable in the face of further tuition hikes.

“We don’t agree with their assessment that the UC doesn’t deserve more money,” said UCSA communications director Darius Kemp. “Tuition has risen 300 percent over the last decade, and government spending on education has gone down over (the) decade. Tuition should not just be frozen but rolled back.”

The report also recommends that the state appropriations to the UC system are restricted to high-priority obligations like debt service and employee pension costs. Without tying funding to specific achievement goals like improved graduation rates or lower costs, the report argues that increases in funding would have little effect.

UC officials declined to comment.

Average spending per student is more than 20 percent higher at UC universities than at comparable public universities with high research activity, according to Golaszewski. The high relative cost per student in the UC system indicates that there is still more room to cut the UC system’s budget, according to the report.

The report suggests devoting more funds to online education and other lower-cost models but opposes the $10 million earmarked for online education in Brown’s budget. Instead, it suggests a $1 million program to adapt currently offered courses for wider use.

“While we do not believe additional monies are warranted as proposed by the Governor, we do believe significant opportunities exist for the segments to share more of their current inventory of online courses,” the report stated.

It also recommends using funds to satisfy expensive pension obligations.

“One of the cost increases we recommend funding for the University of California is pension costs,” Golaszewski said. “They’re largely unavoidable for the UC, and if the state does not provide funding, they will need to find it somewhere else.”

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

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article indicated that average spending per student is more than 20 percent higher at UC than at private research universities. In fact, average spending per student at UC is more than 20 percent higher than comparable public universities.