Public Funding Shortfall Strains UC

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Analysis: Public Funding Shortfall

Javier Panzar, lead higher education reporter and Emma Anderson, Assistant University News Editor for the Daily Cal speak about new funding from the state.

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Despite receiving more than $300 million in new state and federal funding last week, the University of California still fell almost $600 million short of its anticipated public fund need for the current fiscal year, leaving each campus facing critical decisions about how to spend its resources.

When the university submitted its request for funding to the state for the 2010-11 fiscal year, it asked for $913 million. However, the state allocated only $305 million in a one-time restoration for previous cuts to the university, with an additional $65.4 million distributed to pay for unfunded California students and retiree health care costs.

Of the $370.4 million, $264.4 million came from state coffers while the remaining $106 million was federal money distributed under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The shortfall leaves campus officials with difficult decisions about what aspects of the university to prioritize.

"We're just not going to get all the revenue we need to meet the university's budget gap, which is clearly over $1 billion," said Patrick Lenz, the UC's vice president for budget.

James Chalfant, chair of the Academic Senate Committee on Planning and Budget and professor of agricultural and resource economics at UC Davis, identified increased employee salaries and pension contributions - which play a critical role in UC's competitiveness in the job market - as absolute priorities.

"If certain classes are cancelled, larger, or not offered as often, or if certain academic programs are curtailed, we all hate that, but these decisions can be reversed as soon as the funding is available," he said in an e-mail. "But if we don't recruit and retain the very best faculty and staff, we don't preserve UC's excellence, and that affects all academic programs."

Claudia Magana, president of the UC Student Association, said she would like to see the money channeled back into the classroom and student services, such as increased discussion sections and more funds for hiring teaching assistants.

"Majors have reduced or condensed requirements, which affects the student experience, and the only small discussions we have are impacted," she said.

The funding shortfall could mean student fee increases, a possibility that has elicited some agitation among some campus community members in recent weeks. But Lenz said there have been no proposals to do so as of yet.

Student fees are one of the UC's most readily available sources of increased revenue and have already proved a critical resource for raising funds. Last November's 32 percent increase generated $330.1 million, according to a September presentation to the UC Board of Regents Committee on Finance.

Each 1 percent increase in 2010-11 systemwide student fees would generate $21.8 million for the university, according to the presentation.

The reduced state funds will necessitate the continued curtailing of freshman enrollment at the UC. Even though each new student generates more fee revenue, there are simply not enough resources to provide a high-quality educational experience for large numbers of students, according to the presentation.

"Really (the university) is almost overenrolled as it is, which is a drag on the operational budget and really is a drag on everybody," said Daniel Simmons, chair of the systemwide Academic Senate and professor of law at UC Davis. "We need to figure out how to do a good job for the students we have right now."

Although the university did not receive as much money as it had asked for, it fared much better than other state education institutions in the budget.

While the UC's state funding increased by 12.2 percent from last year, funding for K-12 schools and community colleges increased by a collective 0.2 percent, according to Judy Heiman, a principal fiscal and policy analyst for the California Legislative Analyst's Office.

"The (governor and legislators) of the state of California are in a very difficult position, and their hands are tied in terms of constructing budgets," Simmons said. "We are grateful they made higher ed a priority in the way that they did."


Jordan Bach-Lombardo covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected]

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