California is in the midst of a higher education crisis. At first glance, this may seem paradoxical, as many in California and around the world continue to perceive the UC system in particular as the gold standard of public higher education. A closer look, however, reveals a myriad of deep structural problems.
First, we have an access crisis. The lack of expansion of public universities, even as California’s population grew, has left California with the fewest public university seats per capita of any state in the country. UCs have become so difficult to access that even excellent California students struggle to get admitted, even as the UC system has admitted more and more international students to generate income.
Second, we have a quality problem. Although the UC system is still among the best public universities in the country, there has been an inexorable decline in the overall ranking. When I applied to university in 1989, Berkeley was ranked 6th university in the country. This year, he fell to 22nd place.
Third, at the root of the other two problems, we have a funding problem. As documented by the Public Policy Institute of California, higher education spending has been systematically deprioritized in Sacramento, dropping from 18% of the state budget in 1976-77 to 12% in 2016-17. These funding cuts were felt most strongly at the University of California, where funding per full-time equivalent student fell from about $ 23,000 to about $ 8,000.
Tuition rates in the state have been frozen for most of the past decade. Given the decline in state funding and fixed tuition fees, it is no wonder that CUs have attempted to admit more out-of-state students who pay “full price”.
Collectively, this is a picture not only of the university system in crisis, but of a social contract in crisis.
Since higher education is considered one of the most secure mechanisms for promoting social mobility, the lack of access and declining quality in California is a sign that a state that is already one of the country’s most unequal cuts its less fortunate members from the very possibility of moving forward.
As the former Associate Chancellor of UC Berkeley during a time of austerity and severe budget cuts, I had a front row seat for the terrible choices faced by senior administrators in the system, and I a modest proposal on how to solve almost all of these problems at once. This involves revising the master plan for higher education in California.
Developed in 1960 by an investigative team led by UC President Clark Kerr, the plan established a cohesive system for public post-secondary education that defined specific roles and expansion plans for the various elements of the California higher education system.
The plan defined a system that would allow the elite level (the University of California) to train the emerging knowledge worker and management class, as well as do basic research, an intermediate level (state colleges, now brought together as a California State University system). to provide general education for the growing middle class and a lower level widely accessible as the first rung of the ladder, accessible to all (California Community Colleges).
Given the structure of California’s booming post-war industrial economy, this system made a lot of sense and was the basis of the long boom that saw California become arguably the most prosperous economy in the world. during the last third of the 20th century.
Sadly, Sacramento’s systematic underfunding over the past decades has led to the downgrade of what is rightly seen as the linchpin of California’s economic success. The result is that the crown jewel of the state is in need of sweeping reform that can unleash the fantastic R&D potential of its major universities, while dramatically expanding university access for California students.
My four-step proposal would achieve these two goals, while remaining revenue neutral for the state.
- Transfer all state funding from UC to CSU and CCC to allow expansion of the latter;
- Abolish the office of the president of the University of California and delegate all property and governance to individual CUs;
- Enable CUs to increase education levels in the state to meet all funding needs; and
- Mandate 90% of students come from the state and a third of the tuition fees go to financial aid.
The California State General Fund currently provides $ 3.7 billion in public funding to the UC system, $ 4.1 billion to CSU, and $ 5.1 billion to community colleges. Shifting the UC budget to CSU and CCC would represent a 40% increase in their public funding, allowing their biggest expansion in decades. Given that UHC is the most important driver of social mobility in the state, this alone would be a dramatically egalitarian movement, giving hundreds of thousands more students a ladder up to the middle class.
But what about the UC system in this equation?
First, getting rid of public funding would necessarily mean abolishing the office of the president of UC – an unnecessary bureaucracy that currently absorbs a tenth of total state funding to UC without educating a single student or creating a single innovation.
The UC President’s office was established to oversee the expansion of the UC system and to prevent UCs from competing for funding in Sacramento. With state funding for UC canceled, this latter justification is not necessary, as is the office of the UC president, since the expansion imperative would now fall on existing campuses, which would also be encouraged to do so.
Probably the most controversial element of the proposal would be to allow CUs to increase tuition fees in the state to the level of their choice. This is essential to compensate for the loss of public funding. In Berkeley, for example, that would likely mean increasing tuition sticker prices in the state from current $ 14,000 to around $ 25,000, or maybe a little more in order to improve services on campus. There would also be strong incentives for campuses to expand the size of their student body in order to increase income.
To prevent this new formula from harming students from low-income families, the fourth element of the plan would be to force CUs to do what is already their practice, which is to set aside a third of their tuition income for aid. to tuition income students. Already nearly half of UC students pay no tuition fees. It would remain the same with the revised revenue model.
Additionally, the additional rule that all campuses are required to take 90% of their students from inside the state would expand access to the UC system for Californians, helping allay the rage and despair that many Californians feel when their 4.0 high school student can’t find a place in the UC system. With CUs able to raise tuition fees in-state, they would have less need to generate income by pursuing full-cost payers out of state.
What would be the net effects of this modification of the master plan?
First, it would expand access for Californians to all levels of the higher education system – UC, CSU, and CCC. This expansion would improve social mobility, reshaping the state’s social contract.
Second, the system would allow CUs to generate the income they need to be able to continue competing for talent with private universities, halting the relative decline of the last generation. This would allow the University of California to rebuild its crucial role as an R&D engine, resetting its place to ensure that California can remain the epicenter of the 21st century innovation economy.
But who would be the losers of this plan?
The answer is basically three. The first would be wealthy families whose children are currently admitted to CUs and benefit from state-subsidized tuition fees. This is only a legitimate objection if we believe the state should subsidize these most privileged Californians.
The second possible set of losers could be the CUs that find themselves unable to compete effectively, which could include the Merced and Riverside campuses. However, they would keep their fate in their own hands: if they improved their product enough to be able to generate demand for their higher education product, they would undoubtedly find themselves very attractive.
The latest and most subtle group of losers are those who insist on clinging to the old system and its outdated take on the California economy and the broken social pact. Basically we need a new system that matches the needs of the state as they have evolved since 1960. A new master plan for higher education in California would be a critical step in enabling a new and better California.
Nils Gilman is vice-president of the Berggruen Institute and former associate chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley. He wrote this review for CalMatters. Email him at [email protected]