The UC System is Struggling as Public Funding is Reduced

  • Last June, Mark Yudof became the president of the University of California. As the former president of the University of Minnesota, he wrestled with Jesse Ventura, then the Governor of Minnesota, to secure funding. Now, instead of Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler and co-star of the 1987 film, "Predator," Mr. Yudof is battling with the film's other co-star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former world champion body builder. In May of 2008, a month before Mr. Yudof arrived, UC students saw a tuition increase of 7.4%, or $490.  At present, the state of California is facing a $41.6 billion shortfall by mid-2010, and public higher education is targeted by Schwarzenegger to help stem the flow of red ink.


Mr. Yudof is reviewing a number of alternatives to reduce costs: cutting back enrollment, freezing salaries, and cutting grants. The 10 January 2009 LA Times mentioned a proposal under debate to cut the number of freshman spots back by 6%, or 2,300 students. This wouldn't apply to the ever popular campuses in Berkeley or Westwood, or the recently constructed campus in Merced. All the others, however, are fair game. To UC applicants this means increased competition for a reduced number of admission slots. The same day, Mr. Yudof froze all salaries for the top administrators in the UC System (probably not a bad idea). This includes his $591,084 base, and $237,000 supplemental pay. Separately, on January 12th, Governor Schwarzenegger proposed an $88-million cut to the Cal Grant program, which provides grants to mainly lower income and first-time college attendees. Though UC claims it will intercede and offset any such cuts, the knives are out and attempting to chop furiously.

On the flipside of cost cutting are Mr. Yudof's plans to raise revenues: mainly by raising tuition fees, and bringing in more out-of-state (or international) students.  The tuition fee increase is already on the table. It would raise tuition fees by 9.4%, an increase of $662. This means that since May of 2008, the tuition at the various UC campuses could be increased $1,152 to $8,317, a 16% increase in less than a year.

Increasing the number of out-of-state, undergraduate students is being strongly advocated by UC Regent Judith Hopkinson. Currently, only 6% are out-of-state. Hopkinson wants to raise this number by 15-20%, to improve the financial stability of the UC System, and build a more national student body. UC Berkeley must be listening. Last year it increased the number of international students by over 450, a 180% gain. Out-of-state (which includes international) students pay an extra $20,000 annually in tuition. Half of this sum is considered 'profit.'  This places California squarely on the path to building a university system model like that of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and the University of Virginia, where the undergraduate out-of-state percentage is greater than 30%.

Just how difficult are these economic times, and just how far should these difficulties be mitigated by sacrifices from California's public, higher educational system?  If the proposals under discussion by Governor Schwarzenegger and Mr. Yudof and the UC Regents go into effect, the changes for future California high school graduates will be stark. Tuition is rising at a double digit rate; Cal Grant money might completely disappear, and the number of freshman spots might decline by 2,300. Should 15% of the undergraduate admits be earmarked for out-of-state students, this could reduce the number of spots for in-state Californians by, effectively, 10%, or approximately 16,000 or more, by my reckoning.  While this would conservatively raise an extra $1.6 billion for the UC coffers, it would substantially reduce access to the UC system to the sons and daughters of a generation of California taxpayers. No matter how this plays out over the next months, public higher education in California will never be the same again.