UC Board of Regents establishes advisory committee to examine university’s cost structure

Jessica Gleason/Staff

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A committee of the UC Board of Regents unanimously voted during its meeting at UCSF on Wednesday to establish an advisory committee, which will examine ways to reduce the university’s cost structure.

The Select Advisory Committee on the Cost Structure of the University provides an opportunity for Gov. Jerry Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano to air their ideas on university finances. The collaboration between Brown and Napolitano occurs in the wake of political tension between the regents and the state.

In November, the regents voted to approve a possible tuition increase in conflict with the governor’s January proposal of increasing funding for the university contingent on tuition remaining flat.

“(The committee) is going to be engaged deeply and holistically in looking at the university and its future,” Napolitano said during the meeting.

The committee will incorporate representatives from the offices of the governor and UC president, according to the UC Office of the President’s press release, although Brown and Napolitano are the only formal members of the team.

The committee aims to make recommendations that will help determine appropriate state funding levels for the university in the short and long term. Meetings will be private to ensure a frank discussion.

The UC Commission on the Future, established in 2009 to examine the university’s future in the fiscal context of rapidly declining state funding, evaluated topics at the meeting similar to the ones Brown and Napolitano will discuss.

On Wednesday, the regents heard an update from the commission, during which the board discussed commitment to financial aid programs, undergraduate nonresident enrollment and time to degree.

Executive Vice President and Provost Aimee Dorr noted that although decreasing the time students spend in college may save money for students, it does not necessarily reduce the university’s costs.

She said that although the report had recommended that the university increase graduate student enrollment, numbers have not increased proportionally.

In the past, Brown has particularly emphasized reducing the time it takes for students to complete a degree, proposing to offer more 3-year-track degrees and online education.

During the meeting, Brown commented that with new technology, it is possible to blur the “boundaries and barriers” between the separate UC, CSU and community college systems, particularly in terms of course selection.

“We’re going to find a way to break the barriers,” Brown said. “There will be a flow of opportunity across the whole system.”

According to Assembly speaker Toni Atkins, the state and regents should agree on a set of definitions to discuss finances — otherwise they will just continue “playing a political game.”

Regent Sherry Lansing said during the meeting that she believes the discussion to occur in the next few months will determine the future of the university, including the makeup of the student body and the quality of the professors.

Experts are skeptical, however, that the university can become much more efficient costwise without sacrificing the quality of the university.

Lansing said no one disagrees on the fundamentals goals of access, affordability and maintaining quality.

“I’m extraordinarily optimistic that President Napolitano and Gov. Brown are going to have a really robust discussion,” Lansing said. “I believe they will come to a conclusion that will be very very beneficial for all of us.”

Brown and Napolitano will hold their first meeting next Monday and are scheduled to present a preliminary report to the regents in March.

Suhauna Hussain covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @suhaunah.