Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More Questions and Answers Regarding the UC Budget

One of the most surprising facts that have come out of my exchanges with the budget office of UCOP is that only 38% of the cost of instruction is spent on faculty salaries and benefits. Another interesting fact is that the university claims it spends almost the same amount of money on departmental support as it does on faculty salaries. Furthermore, in a new response to my questions regarding this data, I have been told that only 62.8% of state funds go to support general campus activities; in other words, 37.2% of state funds go to the health sciences, research, and public services.

While the UCOP budget office feels that I have unfairly called them non-transparent, they also freely admit that none of these calculations of the cost of instruction can be found on any of their web sites. They have also added that their budgeting methods are highly complex, and there is often no clear way of tracing how funds are actually spent. For example, in response to my inquiry into how much state funds go to support summer instruction, I got the following: “The amount of State funding dedicated to summer sessions is not easily determined due to the variety of funding arrangements both within and across the campuses and the fact that recent budget cuts have reduced significantly the amount of funding available for all of instruction.” I think this is an honest answer, but it shows how difficult it is for the university to have any type of real budget transparency.

This problem of following the money is evident in UCOP’s response to my question concerning the different costs of educating undergraduates versus graduate students: “Due to the costs and the cross-subsidization of undergraduate and graduate instruction and research, and at the suggestion of the Legislative Analyst’s Office, these analyses were discontinued. No analyses were done to determine the undergraduate versus graduate costs of operating libraries, maintaining facilities, or managing the University.” Since the university cannot figure out how to separate costs for graduate and undergraduate students, it now simply uses a generalized average that makes it impossible to tell how the system is actually spending its money.

The problem of budget transparency is so important because even though the university claims that reducing undergraduate enrollments is a way to save money, they really do not know if this true. In fact, while the official policy of the regents is to increase the number of graduate students versus undergraduates, it is clear that the campuses are doing the opposite, and I suspect the reason for this conflict is that the local leaders realize that undergraduates are the only real source of flexible income.

In order to correct these problems, we need to work with the Legislative Analyst and the Department of Finance to require the university to calculate the real cost of educating undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. We should also require the university to report on its non-instructional costs with the goal of seeing how much the campuses are spending on administration.


  1. Bob, do you anticipate that the state's audit of the University of California (results of which are to be released in July 2011) will shed light on any of your questions?

    Do you have any general thoughts regarding this audit? My own (perhaps naive) hope is that the audit will provide real answers regarding how the money flows within UC.

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  3. I assume that UCOPs response to me will be echoed in the audit, but we do not know what the auditor will come up with.

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