Analysis: Gov Brown’s Proposal Short-Changes Higher Ed

With tuition frozen, California's public colleges and universities were looking for increased funding from Governor Jerry Brown's budget plan. But now, writes Christina Hoag in an AP story, the Legislative Analyst's Office has given Brown's plan a failing grade.

The analysis criticizes Brown for removing key decisions from the state legislature, but it also criticizes his budget proposals for not ensuring that additional money will go to the places it's needed most. If tuition is frozen and the state increases spending, the Legislative Analyst wants the extra money to help improve graduation rates, in addition to other priorities. Brown's budget lacks these mechanisms, although it gives an additional $1.4 billion to public higher education.

Highest priorities are fully funding pensions and debt, and making sure that community colleges' needs are met. But after that, graduation is what will most help the state's flagging economy.

If there's extra money after meeting those priorities, that funding should be specifically linked to benchmark goals for graduation rates and enrollment, the legislative analyst said.

The report noted that only 23 percent of full time community college students graduate or transfer within three years and fewer than half of Cal State students graduate within six years.

Graduation rates drop when students need to take required courses, but the courses have wait lists that are too long. Students must remain enrolled, so they take courses they do not really need, while waiting to get into high-demand classes. Brown's plan includes expansion of online offerings so that student might have this option to get these courses done and graduate. The University of California recently set a target of getting 10% of their courses into an online format. Overloaded required courses are among the top priorities.

While the analyst's report agrees with this priority, it said that funding increases should be directly linked to outcomes like graduation, cutting costs, and increased research. The state cannot afford to fund good ideas without direct pay off. The report also expressed concern about the current tuition situation.

The report said an extended tuition freeze was worrisome as it would result in a steep increase in the next economic downturn. It notes that tuition paid by students funds only about 30 percent of the University of California's costs and just 6 percent of Cal State's.

California students have already seen steep tuition increases in recent years as the state tries to keep its universities out of red ink.

Pennsylvania is facing a higher education crisis similar to California's. The governor recently negotiated an agreement with the public universities that they would not raise tuition, and in exchange, funding would remain at the same levels.

California is seeking to do one better by increasing funding, but this comes at a time when there are many other pressing priorities for the state's education spending. A recent court order will force the state to pay back many school districts for unfunded mandates
concerning the behavioral needs of some special education students. The amount is close to what Brown proposed to spend on improving higher education.

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