There are a lot of ways to measure how the University of California has changed in the last few years.
You could look at systemwide fees, which ran around $6,636 a year in 2007 but have since risen to $12,192 this year and may well climb higher. Or the growing number of out-of-state students at UC Berkeley. In 2009, 11 percent of freshmen were from outside the state, but in a significant shift, 30 percent of this fall’s entering class will not hail from California.
Then there are the programs that have been eliminated throughout the system, the classes that have grown crowded in size and the buildings that have not been repaired.
But at the center of it all is one simple metric: state support for the university has dropped 27 percent since 2007. That year, the university received $3.25 billion from the state system for its teaching mission — a far cry from the $2.37 billion the 10-campus system will get this year.
This summer, the university was cut $650 million as the State Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown struggled to bridge a multibillion-dollar structural deficit. Weeks later, the UC Board of Regents voted to raise tuition another 9.6 percent.
And tuition could rise another 5.9 percent this spring if the state falls shy of the $4 billion of extra tax revenue the State Legislature expects to garner this fiscal year. If that money doesn’t materialize, an additional $100 million “trigger cut” will hit the university.
“I just ask all your readers to reflect: How can any organization get nearly a quarter of its funding cut in one year and maintain the same level of quality?” said Student Regent Alfredo Mireles Jr. “I don’t want to be an alarmist … but this could be catastrophic.”
This year’s funding cuts also prompted one UC administrator to write an obituary for the Master Plan for Higher Education, the 1960 document that outlined California’s three-tiered university system and guaranteed affordable high-quality education for qualified high school students.
“The loss of the Master Plan will leave a major void in the State of California,” wrote Lars Walton, the assistant vice chancellor for government and community relations, in the obituary published on The Huffington Post. “It is expected that the State will experience a shortage of 1 million college graduates by 2025. Without the Master Plan, students will now experience sharp increases in tuition as well as reductions to access and quality of instruction.”
Mireles said he does not believe the Master Plan has been abandoned, adding that the UC still guarantees spots to the top 12.5 percent of high school graduates.
But some things have been lost in the latest round of budget cuts.
In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune this January, UC President Mark Yudof warned that in light of deep budget cuts, the university was going to have to pick between its three “compass points”: access, affordability and excellence.
“We are moving dangerously close to having to say: pick two of the three. That’s my view, and the excellence is nonnegotiable,” he said. “We are going to have to look at access and affordability.”
Mireles, a UC San Francisco medical student and UC Berkeley graduate, said that the university had transitioned into a “high-fee, high-aid” model, commonly employed at other public research universities like the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia. In a high-fee, high-aid model, the university charges large tuition and uses the revenue to fund scholarships for lower-income students.
Mireles added that while the UC still charges less than other public universities in the nation, something has been lost in California with the recent budget cuts.
“We were this beacon on the hill — we really were the gold standard for high quality, low cost education,” he said. “The perception is that it is not what it once was … the doors aren’t as wide open as they used to be, that the University of California isn’t as distinct from its peers as it used to be.”
“Sometimes perception is reality and we lose some of that luster we had historically,” he said.