More on the Proposed California Higher Ed Budget

Yesterday I posted a piece on California Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed budget, with specific reference to higher education.  Today UCLA History professor Michael Meranze posted his response to the Brown proposal on the Remaking the University blog that he runs with UC Santa Barbara English professor Christopher Newfield.  Michael’s take is similar to mine, but more thorough, especially with regard to the University of California (UC).  Here is what he writes:

Follow Austerity Road: The Governor’s Higher Education Budget

Governor Brown has issued his proposed 2016-2017 budget.  Shorn of its rhetorical invocation of technocratic answers, the Governor’s Higher Education budget simply locks in the continuing underfunding of CSU and UC (I won’t offer an analysis of the community college budget in this post).  When I first read the budget, I was tempted to think that Governor Brown was now governing openly as an Eisenhower Republican.  But Eisenhower actually helped expand higher education for the country. He did not diminish it.


The Governor’s proposal fundamentally restates the agreement reached in secret negotiations with UCOP [University of California Office of the President] under the auspices of the so-called Committee of Two.  There is the $125M general fund increase that the Governor had intended as part of his “sustainability” plan (about 4% of this year’s base funding) and the one-time $171M contribution to the UCRP [UC Retirement Plan] unfunded retirement obligation. (18) The proposed budget continues the supplemental $25M appropriation to pay part of the costs of  the additional 5000 California resident undergraduate students that UC has agreed to admit by next academic year.  This appropriation is about half of what the State appropriated for enrollment expansion during the Schwarzenegger administration.  There is no sign that the Governor is willing to fund the additional resident students that President Napolitano has indicated she would like to admit above next year’s 5000..  As per the agreement there will be no increase in resident tuition  in 2016-2017.  The base General Fund allocation is $3,260,544,000.  This number does not include the one-time UCRP payment.

The Governor’s office, of course, would like to spin these appropriations as indications of a serious refunding of the University.  But in reality what Brown has done–and what UCOP has accepted–is the permanent under-funding of UC.  The Governor’s proposal will finally restore general fund appropriations to approximately the level of 2007-2008.  But the resident student population is considerably larger.  The 2007-2008 budget assumed a total (undergraduate, graduate, and health science) resident student population of 198,455. (4)  The 2016-2017 budget assumes a resident population of 216,897. (10)    Allowing for inflation and the agreed-upon (inadequate) marginal cost of increased enrollment, that leaves the state’s appropriation to the base UC budget over half a billion dollars below 2007-2008.  Of course, this estimate does not include the explosive rise in Cal Grant funding tied to the rise in tuition and the increasing total costs of attendance–each an indication of the extent to which the State continues to shift the burden of higher education costs onto students and their families.  On the other hand, it does not include include the additional costs for UC Merced or the other mandated increases which would likely outweigh the growth in Cal Grants..


The proposal for CSU is similar in its implications.  The Governor proposes $125.4M in base increase, $15M in funding available through changes in the Middle-Class Scholarship Fund, and $7.9M for leasing properties coming to a General Fund increase of $148.3M.  In addition there will be a $35M one time appropriation for deferred maintenance (49).   All told, the Governor is proposing a $3,157,805,000 General Fund appropriation for CSU in 2016-2017. Again, for comparison sake, CSU’s enacted General Fund Appropriation in 2007-2008 was $2,976,300,000.  So Governor Brown is proposing that CSU receive approximately $200M more from the general fund, not corrected for inflation, or enrollment increases.  The 2007-2008 budget presumed that CSU would enroll a total of 342,553 resident students. (4)  Governor Brown is projecting a resident student population 374,174 (these are FTE not actual individuals).  In inflation terms this leaves CSU several hundred million dollars behind.  And that does not account for the additional 30,000 FTE students.

The Governor has a somewhat different model for CSU, compared to UC, as his CSU widget theory of higher education focuses more on 4 year graduation rates.  Once again, the Governor is fixated on technology and fails to see that if he expects CSU to dramatically increase these rates he will need to do more than simply hector CSU while providing minor incremental increases in funding.  Instead, the State will need to commit to providing the funds needed to expand faculty and staff in order to improve graduation rates and the teaching resources available to the system’s educators.

I’ll add another word about the way the Governor continues to vest his higher education hopes in technocratic solutions. The most obvious of these continues to be his insistence that problems can be solved through online education.  But just as striking is his office’s insistence that the problems facing higher education in the 21st century can be solved by accelerating throughput of students into the workforce.  I found nothing in the Governor’s discussion of higher education that indicated any awareness that as they face a complex world of  local and international challenges, students might need to develop more knowledge, not less, by acquiring more complex skills and interdisciplinary knowledge structures, which is likely to take more time, not less.  The pressure he puts on UC and CSU is to cut costs, not to improve quality.  Now I agree that shortening time to degree is important; but the way to do that is to provide adequate funding to enable students to focus on their studies.  When all you want to use is a hammer, everything looks like a nail–even human beings.

The state does have money to start improving higher education again, rather than just chiding and squeezing it.  As the California Budget and Policy Center has pointed out, the Governor’s obsession with the State’s Rainy Day Fund has led him to refuse to spend $2 billion that could be appropriated. The Governor is reasonably afraid of a recession in the next few years.  But as his budget acknowledges, the recovery has hardly been shared equally (10) and as I have indicated above his proposals do more than resist new commitments–they continue to lock in recession-era losses.  This Governor’s budget makes clear, as we enter the twilight of his political career, that he will be remembered for failing to promote a politics of hope rather than succumbing to the politics of fear that has governed the state since Howard Jarvis embarrassed him in the late 1970s.

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