What is the future of higher education in California?

Centered around this question, the University of California’s board of regents listened to proposals, concerns and explored funding and budgeting options. While the meeting took place on Jan. 22 and 23, anyone interested in these matters has the privilege to plug into the discussion among the UC regents, leaders of the UC, California State and community colleges as they grapple with the forthcoming challenges of higher education in California through the online webcast.

The two-day meeting consisted of logistical topics affecting the UC on a “going forward basis,” as vice chairman of the UC regents Fred Ruiz said. The regents meetings take place every other month starting in January, hosted by either UCSF, Mission Bay or Sacramento.

In the meeting’s commencement, various UC affiliates were allowed one minute to speak to the higher education coalition on any happenings within the UC. The advocates ranged from students, employees, alumni and faculty of the UC, and concerns spanned from sustainability projects, the Fossil Free UC campaign, worker wages, sexual assault, anti-Semitism and undocumented immigrant students, to name a few.

There were several UC workers representing American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 3299. AFSCME has been vocal about escalation in workplace injury rates suffered by low-paid campus workers, and they got their chance at the meeting to briefly speak out. At the meeting, AFSCME announced they will vote on another strike in February. If the strike passes during the vote in February, that will be the third AFSCME strike within a year.

Edward Wilson, a UC employee in his fifth year working as a bus driver and custodian at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, was among the handful of UC workers who expressed discontent.

“We’ve been at the table for 20 months now and the UC has gone in the opposite direction,” Wilson said. “We’ve compromised on a lot of things we’ve had on the table, [and] we’ve come down to lower rates.”

The university has granted such protections to other bargaining units, such as nurses, but has remained non compliant with AFSCME’s request for similar safeguards. Wilson refers to this as the “two-tier system.”

“It’s a laughing stock to me and my community to see how the UC treats its workers: understaffed, overworked … people are getting hurt,” Wilson said.

Apart from the concerns of AFSCME, the regents focused on budgets and funding, with tuition at the forefront.

“The attitude toward the UC and this board is totally different than it was a few years ago,” said regent chairman Bruce Varner. “We’re really focused on trying to have a predictable tuition that makes sense over a long range plan that fits with our budget. We’d really like to get to the point where we can offer any student that would like to graduate in four years a chance to do that. That will not only impact the cost, but it would impact the tuition.”

UC labels its multiplicity of funded sectors with “discretionary” and “mandatory” funding, which in turn influences how sought after an institution or program becomes. Discretionary spending relies on an appropriations act that the California Congress decides upon, while mandatory spending is viewed as an expense that must be paid for.

“Most of the other education programs such as federal work study, international education, graduate education and many of the academic preparation programs are ‘flat funded,’ or receive small increases in fiscal year 2014,” said associate vice president for the UC’s federal governmental relations Gary Falle. “But overall, again, this funding level is still below what the level was two years ago.”

The federal government is the university’s single and largest source of research funding. In 2011-2012, UC received nearly $3 billion in federally sponsored research, accounting for about 65 percent of the university’s research awards. It is estimated that annually, UC research receives about 8 to 10 percent of all federal funding for basic research grants awarded to universities across the country.

Currently, the National Institute of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and Department of Agriculture are the five largest sources of UC federal funding, Falle said.

“Increases in funding for research sponsoring agencies normally results in higher funding for UC in subsequent years,” Falle said.

The health care budget has historically fallen on the discretionary side, which the California Congress must decide upon, Falle said. UC health receives over $2 billion annually for the provision of patient care services under Medicaid and Medicare. However, the fiscal year 2014 budget that just passed is not predicted to impact those funds because the budget was developed by mandatory spending.

“We hoped for more investment in education, research and health care, but the fiscal year 2014 budget could be much worse for UC if the lower funding targets in sequestration weren’t repealed,” Falle said. “A flat budget could have turned into significant cuts if that hadn’t happened.”

Following this dialogue between advocates and regents, UCSC’s external vice chair of the Student Union Assembly (SUA) and undergraduate committee chair of University of California Student Association (UCSA) Tony Milgram represented UCSC students at the meeting. Milgram, the only UCSC affiliate seated at the table of California’s higher education leaders, reiterated how paramount it is to measure the quality of one’s higher education experience.

“Quality of education is most important to a UC degree, and to students, quality has a real meaning — class sizes, research opportunities for undergraduates and support services,” Milgram said. “These contribute to graduate rates and the overall experience, and this in turn correlates to how alumni will interact with the UC, making sure future students have the same experience they did.”


To view the regent meetings webcast, please visit this link.