‘Tipping point’: Study finds UC system cannot grow without more state funding

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The UC system is approaching a financial “tipping point” after which it cannot continue to grow with the California economy without more state funding, according to a study published Monday by the campus Center for Studies in Higher Education.

The study catalogued the history of UC revenue sources and expenditures over its 150-year history across 10 campuses, noting its reliance on state funding from 1900 through the 1990s. Beginning in the early 1990s, however, state revenue per student started to decrease “dramatically,” while total enrollment grew alongside the California population from 166,500 students to the 273,000 students enrolled today.

John Douglass, a co-author of the study, said in an email that the UC and the state had an agreement whereby more enrollment generated operating and capital investment by California lawmakers, but this is no longer in place.

“Without it, UC loses the incentive and ability to meet the enrollment demand of a growing California population,” Douglass said in an email.

The study outlines the UC’s options to generate funding — such as decreasing enrollment to focus more on quality of education and lowering faculty salariesbut says there is “no clear funding model or pathway for the system to grow.”

“We have ongoing discussions with the UC Board of Regents, the state Legislature, and the governor — as well as with and among our internal constituents: chancellors, faculty, students and staff,” said UC Office of the President spokesperson Danielle Smith in an email. “This report, which places the challenges facing UC in historical context, is an important addition to these discussions.”

Zachary Bleemer, a co-author of the study and director of the UC ClioMetric History Project, said the UC system has tried to keep up with declines in state funding by increasing tuition revenue, but this has not offset the funding declines. At UC Berkeley, 40 percent of the tuition that the campus collects comes from out-of-state and international students even though they only make up about 19 percent of the student body, according to the study.

Nuha Khalfay, the ASUC external affairs vice president, said the UC used to be free for students until then-governor Ronald Reagan’s administration laid the foundation for a tuition-based system. She added that this study adds “credence to what students have been saying for years” regarding the need for increased state funding in order to decrease student costs.

“State funding historically has been very volatile,” Bleemer said. “Because there is an upcoming election and a new governor will be elected, we thought this was a politically opportune time to tell the UC funding story so that the governor — whoever that may be — takes seriously the possibility of reinvesting in the university.”

Contact Amanda Bradford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandabrad_uc.