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Stewarding the University of California Dream

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The dream of a University of California education has been a historical driver of the upward economic mobility of California's young people.

With the passage of Proposition 30, Governor Brown on Nov. 14 said the UC must think anew about how it does business.

Agreed. In fact, the UC is inspired now more than ever to fulfill the public's trust by thinking of new ways to be responsible stewards of the financial resources we receive from the state.

So, precisely how are we stewarding the state's support to keep the UC dream alive? By continuing to look for new ways to be more efficient and reduce costs while also maintaining access to affordable and excellent education for our students.

In the U.S. News & World Report rankings of universities, five of the top 10 public research universities are UC campuses, with UC Berkeley ranked first, UCLA second, UC Davis and UC San Diego tied at eighth, and UC Santa Barbara tenth.

And, at an average of about $13,000 per year for undergraduates, in-state tuition for a UC campus remains lower than many other public universities and a fraction of the cost of private universities. Indeed, although recent tuition hikes have been burdensome for our students and their families, UC remains an extraordinary value for the money both for individual students, and for the State of California.

To that latter point, for every $1 spent by California on higher education, the return on investment is $4.50. That represents the increased earnings of tax-paying graduates and money the state saves on social services and other costs.

Yet, despite the value that public higher education delivers to California, state funding for UC Davis, just to look at one campus, has dropped nearly $150 million -- or about 34 percent -- during the last four years. Such cuts have demanded increased efficiencies not just at our campus but also throughout the UC system.

UC Davis has sought to avoid layoffs wheneverpossible, but it has pruned its administrative staff levels, through attrition and consolidation, resulting in more than 500 fewer state-funded faculty and staff employees. At the same time, the campus has instituted administrative efficiencies and program reductions that help to ensure that as much of ourfinancial resources as possible are devoted directly to scholarship and teaching. Innovative on-line instructional technologies are creating additional efficiencies.

Our campus has also generated new revenue from a variety of non-government sources, including raising more than $100 millionfrom donor gifts each year for the last five years.

Some academic units across UC, such as professional schools, are using their diversified revenues to reduce the need for state funds so that money can be transferred to areas, such as the arts and humanities, which are more reliant on state money.

At UCLA and UC Berkeley, the business schools are reducing their reliance on state funds, which will make those funds more available to other instructional and research programs on their campuses.

The UC Davis Graduate School of Management has adopted a 10-year plan to reduce reliance on state funds, which will facilitate greater budgetary responsibility. When the plan is fully realized, one result will be to eventually allocate the school's share of state funds to other academic areas at UC Davis.

In addition, the Davis management school has diversified its revenues by launching a new graduate accountancy degree program that operates without state funds. And, the school has held down administrative costs, locked in tuition rates for our part-time MBA students, and invested 14 percent more in scholarship funds.

Californians have a big stake in the UC. As they reflect on the post-Proposition 30 future, I hope they will keep three important points in mind.

The first is that the accessibility, affordability, and outstanding quality of a UC education is the dream of many of our most deserving students.

The second is that those of us involved in the UC have redoubled our commitment to that ideal. We have enacted dramatic improvements to ensure that we are worthy stewards of the financial resources we receive from the state. This includes responsible actions to simultaneously ensure that the pension system remains an important benefit to our faculty and staff yet does not become an obstacle to the financial health of the UC system.

And the third is that the state's investment pays off in tangible financial benefits and that educated, innovative and entrepreneurial Californians contribute towards a prosperous economy. I call on the UC community and all Californians to commit to a reinvigorated joint dialogue about how best to steward state investments to advance the UC dream.

Steven C. Currall is Dean of the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Davis