Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How the UC Calculates the Instructional Cost and Funding per Student

In response to my research on how much it costs to educate each undergraduate student in the UC system, the UCOP budget office has written a report entitled, “Cost of Education Calculations at the University of California.” While I am waiting to receive responses to questions I have recently posed to the writers of the study, I wanted to stress some important facts. First of all, although they argue that they have been highly transparent in their budget information, it is apparent that this important information has never been posted on any of their web sites. Second, as you will see from the excerpts that I will present below, these budgetary calculations are very complex and counter-intuitive.

The two main topics of this report regard how much funds the UC receives per student and how much it spends on each additional student. I have been arguing that the UC already makes a healthy profit on each student, and so there is no reason to raise tuition or reduce enrollments. In fact, according to my calculations, it is financial suicide to reduce enrollments since undergraduate subsidize everything else going on at the university. To refute my claims, UCOP argues that I do not understand how the UC calculates state support, student fees, and the cost of educating each additional student.

Starting with the latter topic, the UC argues that the marginal cost to educate each additional student in 2009-10 was calculated to be $16,574. To get this amount, they add together the following average costs:

• Faculty salaries
• Calculated as the average annual salary of new professors assuming a student-faculty ratio of 18.7:1. In other words, for each 18.7 students, the University needs funding to hire one additional professor.
• The average salary of new faculty hired during 2008-09 was $95,657.
• The faculty salary component of marginal cost for 2009-10 was $5,115 per student.

• Faculty benefits
• Calculated as the base benefit amount of health, dental, vision, life, and disability insurance for new faculty in the current year
• In 2009-10, the annual base benefit amount per new faculty FTE was $17,577.
• The faculty benefits component of marginal cost for 2009-10 was $940 per student.

• Teaching assistant (TA) salaries
• Calculated as the average annual salary, not including mandatory fee remissions, of a full-time TA and a student-TA ratio of 62:1.
• In 2009-10, the average 2008-09 TA salary was $33,274.
• The teaching assistant salary component of marginal cost for 2009-10 was $537 per student.

• Instructional equipment
• Calculated as the average annual cost to replace depreciated instructional equipment.
• The instructional equipment need estimated for 2006-07 and used in the 2009-10 marginal cost calculation was $103,867,314.
• The instructional equipment component of marginal cost for 2009-10 was $523 per student.

• Instructional support
• Includes technology and departmental support.
• In 2009-10, the instructional support component of marginal cost was $4,284 per student.

• Academic support
• Calculated based on average expenditures for libraries, general campus vivaria, and other related expenses. Does not include health science clinics and vivaria, demonstration schools, museums and galleries, and intercollegiate athletics.
• The total budgeted amount for academic support in 2008-09 used in the 2009-10 marginal cost calculation was $267,781,860.
• The 2009-10 marginal cost per student of academic support was $1,349.

• Student services
• Calculated based on average expenditures for admissions and financial aid administration, counseling and career guidance, student activities, and other educational services. Does not include student health program costs.
• The total budgeted amount for student services in 2008-09 used in the 2009-10 marginal cost calculation was $247,255,543.
• The 2009-10 marginal cost per student of student services was $1,246.

• Institutional support
• Calculated based on average expenditures for general administrative services (such as computer centers, information systems, and personnel) and fiscal operations (accounting, audit, and contract and grant administration); executive management, logistical services, risk mitigation and controls, and community relations are excluded and not funded by the State.
• The total budgeted amount for institutional support in 2008-09 used in the 2009-10 marginal cost calculation was $144,084,750.
• The 2009-10 marginal cost per student of institutional support was $726.

• Operation and maintenance of plant
• Calculated based on average expenditures for maintenance of building and grounds, utilities, refuse, janitorial service, and fire departments. Does not include plant administration and non-instruction and research space.
• The total budgeted amount for operation and maintenance in 2008-09 used in the 2009-10 marginal cost calculation was $367,666,404.
• The 2009-10 marginal cost per student of operation and maintenance was $1,853.

I have not edited any of these figures, and so we learn that the UC’s estimation of the direct instructional cost is actually lower than my calculation of $9,000. The question then is why is their total cost estimate so much higher, and the answer is that they assume that the indirect instructional costs make up over 60% of the total cost; in fact, they argue that the university pays almost the same amount for faculty salaries as it does for departmental support.

While I have several questions concerning this method of calculation, if we do accept it, we still have to ask how much funding the university brings in per student. Using UC’s own budget numbers, I have calculated that each student brings in a total of $23,000 in state funds and tuition dollars, but the budget office disputes this figure because they argue that much of the money coming from the state goes to programs that are unrelated to educating students: “A sizable portion of the funding provided by the State has little or nothing to do with educating enrolled students, but rather supports organized research, public service, or financial aid, all of which are part of UC’s mission, but none of which should be included in a calculation of resources available for instructional programs.” I do think this position would surprise many legislators and citizens who assume that the budget for “general instruction” would go to things having to do with educating students.

In order to calculate the state support per student, I simply took the total money the UC got from the state this year ($3 billion) and divided it by the total number of resident students (200,000), but the UC uses a much more complex formula: “The figure represents the estimated total funding from State General Funds, UC General Funds, and student fees on a per-student (again, general campus only) basis that is available to support general campus instruction (faculty salaries and benefits, instructional support, instructional equipment and technology) and support activities such as libraries, student services, administration, and operation and maintenance of plant. It excludes financial aid, as that is an expenditure to support access, not an expenditure to provide the instructional program. The State and UC General Fund components also exclude funding for health sciences instruction, research, and public service, as well as the health sciences, research, and public service components of support activities. The sum of the general campus share of State, UC, and student funding is divided by all general campus students—resident and nonresident—since the average cost of education is the same for residents and nonresidents alike.” If you have a hard time understanding this formula, you are not alone. Firstly, it should be pointed out that UCOP is including nonresident students in state support, and it also includes summer session when it counts student FTE. Secondly, it looks like they put together all of their sources of funding for the general fund, and then they divide it by the number of general campus students, but to do this, they have to subtract funding for health sciences, research, and public service. My big question here concerns how they calculate the cost of the things they subtract; in other words, what part of the health sciences, research, and public service is paid for by the state?

Since the budget office argues that much of the state funds go to non-instructional activities, they estimate that the state funding per student is under $10,000: “As noted above, the average cost of instruction should not include non-instructional costs such as health science instruction, research, public service, or non-instructional support activities; therefore, we remove these items from the numerator. For the non-instructional share of support activities, we determine the proportion of core mission activities (instruction/research and public service) that is non-instructional and remove the corresponding share from support activities.” Once again these calculations are centered on a judgment call over what proportion of the core mission budget is non-instructional; in other words, they have to estimate which parts of shared administration and staffing should be supported by the state and the students.

From my perspective, this report shows that students and the state are paying for the enormous increase in administrative costs on the campuses, and thus the economic solution is not to reduce enrollments or raise tuition; rather, the solution has to be to decrease the cost of non-instructional services. Faculty, citizens, students, and workers concerned about instruction and research should question these budgetary policies.


  1. It appears you are on to the same finding that Charles Schwartz came to. The UC does not want to provide data that would show that undergraduates are fully covering the cost of their education. Their "calculation" is purely rhetorical and aims to support the public positions they have already taken. Making the calculations convoluted is just another way of saying, "we don't want you to know what we don't want to know ourselves."

  2. The teaching assistant salary you listed, provided by UCOP, is greatly inflated and incorrect. The $33,274/year salary figure is based on a TA working 100% which is not allowed (nor would it be possible) in the UC system. TAs normally work 50% or 25% time so that they can also fulfill the requirements of their Ph.D. (doing coursework, taking qualifying exams, writing their dissertations, etc.). The 2010-11 salary of a teaching assistant working 50% at UCLA is $16,969.50/year.

  3. Elise--
    Just so we are all talking about the same thing, the UC figure (as Bob indicates) is for a TA FTE I think. You are correct that real TAs are never the same as an FTE but the calculation ends up at about the same as the figure you suggest.

  4. The AVERAGE new faculty salary is $95,657? After teaching at UC full-time for almost 30 years, and being officially declared to be "excellent" at my job over and over and over again, I am making about $67,000. What's my deficiency? I teach foundational, required courses in English composition. Grammar corps, not glamour corps. I know this beef is not germane to this discussion, but the pay discrepancy has galled me lo these 30 years.

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  5. Can you tell me what percent of the total expenditures of the university is to fund the salaries and fringe benefits of all the faculty?

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