Legislative Analyst’s Office suggests new take on tuition debate, enrollment

A report released by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office on Tuesday praised the governor’s proposed 2015-16 budget for its “better tailored” plan for higher education but advocated a new approach to the debate over UC tuition levels.

A nonpartisan fiscal and policy adviser to the legislature, the LAO called Gov. Jerry Brown’s priorities “generally prudent” and predicted higher than expected tax revenues for the 2014-15 year. It also highlighted the budget proposal’s differentiation among the respective goals of the state’s various spheres of higher education — such as the university’s need to cut costs versus the CSU system’s need to improve student outcomes.

It questioned, though, why the governor did not allocate the $119.5 million provided to the university. Without knowing the objectives of this increase, the report said the LAO could find it difficult to assess whether the money provided “would be spent on the highest state priorities.”

The report also suggested that the state needs a new mechanism for discussing tuition, a recent point of contention between the governor and the university.

Brown’s preliminary budget, released Friday, proposes a 4 percent increase in funding for the university, contingent on keeping UC tuition levels flat. This conflicts with a policy passed by the UC regents in November, which proposes potentially raising tuition 5 percent per year over the next five years unless the state provides more funding than has been proposed by Brown.

The report encourages this tuition debate to focus not only on who should pay for cost increases but also the “overall cost of a college education.” It suggests a “share-of-cost fee” policy, which would determine how to split additional university costs between students and the state, according to Paul Golaszewski, a principal fiscal and policy analyst at the LAO.

“The first order of such a policy is to shed greater light on overall cost and improve the public dialogue around whether cost increases are appropriate given all competing higher education objectives,” the report read.

Additionally, the report disagreed with the governor’s eschewal of enrollment-based funding for the university. While Brown provided about $107 million for 2 percent enrollment growth at community colleges, he did not provide enrollment-growth funding at UC campuses.

By tying funding to enrollment levels, the state can better prioritize college access, according to the report. The university has indicated that without more state funding, it will be able to enroll significantly fewer California residents.

“It’s a way for the state to have influence over how many students the universities are serving,” Golaszewski said. “That’s why you would have money attached to enrollment.”

Meanwhile, Brown noted that enrollment-based funding does not provide incentives for improving student completion rates, affordability and education quality.

In the coming weeks, the LAO will release a more detailed report on the governor’s plan for higher education, according to Golaszewski.

Contact Melissa Wen and Heyun Jeong at [email protected].