WASHINGTON, DC—At a time of major fiscal crisis and growing student and faculty unrest, a new report by the American Council of Trustees points to California’s college and university trustees as both the problem—and the solution—to greater access and quality in the Golden State.
The report, Best Laid Plans: The Unfulfilled Promise of Public Higher Education in California, examines the 32 undergraduate campuses of the University of California and California State systems, and finds that trustees have too often delegated away their authority and sanctioned growing problems of waste, bloat and excess.
Noting that higher education spending in the United States is among the highest in the world, the report argues that many of California’s higher education problems stem not from a lack of funding, but a misdirection of resources. In the wake of recent debate regarding education funding, and just weeks before Gov. Jerry Brown is slated to approve next year’s budget, the report calls on university governing boards to get their own house in order before demanding higher tuitions and more taxpayer dollars from Californians.
Against this backdrop, the report notes that tuition increased by 28% in the last five years nationwide. But in California, it has risen an average of 73% at UC campuses and 84% at Cal State campuses—almost threefold the national average.
This year, as many as 25,000 qualified applicants may be denied acceptance at Cal State campuses. At UC available places regularly fall short of demand for admission.
Yet there is unused capacity in both the UC and Cal State Systems. Summer enrollment at University of California campuses is less than one quarter of fall levels. Summer enrollment at Cal State lags at an embarrassing 12%.
Just one school—UC-Santa Cruz—meets the state’s minimum expectations that, on average, seats in classrooms will be used at least 35 hours per week during the academic year.
Only four of 23 Cal State campuses graduated more than a quarter of their first time, fulltime students in four years. Even after six years, most campuses still hadn’t graduated even half of those students who started there—for a four year degree!
Hundreds of programs have very low enrollments and disproportionately excessive costs, but are rarely closed or consolidated.
Across the Cal State system in 2010-11, 512 degree programs each produced fewer than 10 graduates in one year.
In the UC system, there are 792 such programs.
Some requirements can be fulfilled by scores of esoteric—and often costly—courses.
At UC-Davis, students can select one of hundreds of courses to satisfy the Arts and Humanities requirement, while at UCSB, nearly 200 courses fulfill the Social Science requirement.
Last year, the incoming president of San Diego State University was awarded a $400,000 salary. This was a $100,000 jump from the salary of his predecessor. The generous offer was approved alongside a 12% tuition increase for students.
Unfortunately, California’s alarming tuition hikes are often funding administrative bloat, not instructional activities that enrich an education.
At 9 out of 23 Cal State institutions, administrative spending increased faster (or decreased slower) than instructional spending.
Though administrative spending decreased among some campuses between 2005 and 2010, it increased by as much as 72% among others.
UC Berkeley faces more than $320 million in stadium renovation costs, with students likely to shoulder the burden through increased student fees.
Despite the abundance of vacant classroom seats, the California systems project billions in future building projects, remaining attached to an outdated bricks-and-mortar mentality while the world continues to go global though the creative use of technology.
At UC-Berkeley, the Regent’s Committee on Grounds and Buildings approved several large projects, including the student-supported $193 million UC-Berkeley Lower Sproul project, which will feature a meditation room, retail shopping and a pub.
At Cal Poly Pomona, a new $56.6 million recreation center is in the works, fully equipped with a juice bar and spacious pool that blurs the distinction between university and country club. Students voted for a fee increase of $140 per quarter to pay for the center.
To date, neither system has done much to utilize the cost-savings and effectiveness of excellent online education.
At 14 of 15 California schools in Division I of the NCAA, athletic spending is growing at a faster rate than instructional spending.>
The Berkeley athletic department spent almost $90 million in campus funds between 2003 and 2011 to balance its athletic budget, according to UC-Berkeley professor Brian Barsky.
California schools are some of the worst offenders in the country when it comes to speech and harassment codes that inhibit free speech.
According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), every one of the 32 four-year undergraduate institutions in the Cal State and UC systems have restrictive speech policies in place.
While California higher education was designed to be the envy of the nation, today it is in serious danger of collapse unless the public demands crucial reform and policymakers follow through to implement a sustainable system of higher education.
“As legislators, regents and trustees prepare to lay the foundation for the future of California higher education, they must heed the fiscal warnings of Best Laid Plans and reinvigorate California with the same innovation and ingenuity that inspired the California Master Plan of 1960,” said ACTA President Anne D. Neal. “Best Laid Plans shows how, despite the best intentions and resources, higher education in California has derailed from a sustainable track and is in urgent need of serious reassessment.”
By June 15, the California legislature is required to send a budget to the governor, to be passed by the end of the month. The governing bodies of the UC and Cal State systems will discuss budget issues when they meet on July 17. This report shows these policymakers how the threats that jeopardize California’s future can be mitigated with common sense practices.
“While Californians have been tightening their belts and reevaluating priorities, higher ed leadership in California has simply demanded more money from hardworking students and families,” Neal said. “Instead of cutting wasteful programs, reducing administrative bloat, or slowing the number of costly building projects, the tab is being passed on in the form of higher tuition and fees. Trustees must take action to guarantee that the millions of students benefitting today from California higher ed are not the last. California can do better.”