UC regents committees discuss basic needs, investment portfolio

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The UC Board of Regents Investments Committee and Special Committee on Basic Needs met Tuesday to discuss asset classes, investment products, basic needs and housing insecurity.

The Investments Committee heard updates from regents Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher regarding UC system asset growth and investment goals for the new year. After the committee approved the past meeting’s minutes, Baccher presented the state of UC assets as of Dec. 31, 2019.

“The punchline is that it just gets harder and harder to be able to manage it in these markets. But, we do certainly appreciate the growth of assets for the benefit of the university’s purposes,” Bachher said during the meeting. “Concentration has been the name of our game in terms of getting to a simpler portfolio.”

In the last quarter of 2019, UC assets rose from $126.6 billion in September to $132.4 billion in December. In about the last year, the UC system’s endowment saw 18.9% returns and its pension saw 18%. In a discussion about these numbers with committee members, Bachher also pointed out the office’s portfolio simplification effort that began in 2014. In the last seven years, UC investments dropped from 280 key partnerships to only 98.

The Special Committee on Basic Needs convened later in the afternoon to discuss several agenda items, including supporting parenting students, incorporating basic needs into pre-college outreach and housing insecurity among UC students.

According to data collected from surveys of UC undergraduate students, parenting students reported facing housing and food insecurity at much higher rates compared to their nonparenting peers. Many reported living long distances from campus, and a significant number said family responsibilities were often obstacles to academic success.

During the meeting, committee members discussed the impact of framing childcare as a basic need, noting that parenting students would have to balance full course loads with extensive working hours to support their families.

“Understanding the needs and circumstances impacting parenting students requires that we view and relate to childcare as a basic need,” said Ron Williams, director of re-entry student and veteran services at UC Berkeley, at the meeting. “Just as housing and food insecurity impacts our students’ ability to engage the higher-level thinking required on our campuses, access to childcare impacts engagement in similarly significant ways.”

When asked whether parenting students self-identify before they arrive on campus, Ruben Canedo, director of strategic equity initiatives at UC Berkeley, said parenting students often hesitate to openly identify themselves for fear of being denied admission or financial aid, among other reasons.

Bachher presented four specific goals to the Investment Committee for this year, which include creating a new real estate management company, updating innovation investment strategy, envisioning new global rates and credit strategies, and launching an internal training course.

Bachher added that he has been working in coordination with UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business to create this course for a cohort of 15 of the office’s employees. He said once a quarter, the cohort will spend two days at UC Berkeley for this new training, which will start in March.

“The intention there is to really take these pillars around ‘less is more’, and risk rules, and sustainable investing and drive them into the ethos of our behaviors and our culture,” Bachher said during the meeting. “That’s a goal that is well underway after two years of work that will be put into practice.”

Regarding pre-college outreach with the Special Committee on Basic Needs, UCOP Vice Provost for Diversity and Engagement Yvette Gullatt presented strategies for addressing basic needs through workshops and ambassador positions, intended to make basic needs information more accessible to prospective students.

With respect to financial literacy — also covered in these workshops — Regent Lark Park said it was important to determine what the true cost of attendance would be for students.

The committee ended on housing insecurity, an issue common to several UC campuses. Suzanna Martinez, an assistant adjunct professor at UCSF, presented the results of her qualitative study that attempted to better clarify the definition of housing insecurity.

Canedo noted that addressing housing insecurity not only requires ensuring there are enough available units for students who need it, but also includes prioritizing placing housing-insecure students in campus housing with affordable accommodations.

“There’s a difference between affordability and equity,” Canedo said at the meeting. “Are the students living in on-campus housing the ones that need it the most or the ones that can afford it?”

Contact Revati Thatte and Rachel Barber at [email protected].