The stakes have gone up for Prop 30, the governor's tax initiative, which will cost the UC $375 million in state funding if it does not pass. In turn, the UC will discuss at the next regents meeting a plan to raise tuition by 20% in case the voters do not support the proposition. It should be clear to the citizens of California that a small tax increase will help protect higher education in California; however, the proposition is only polling at 52%.
A related issue is how the UC spends the money it does get from the state. As last year's state audit showed, state funds are distributed to the campuses on an unequal basis, and the result is that the smaller campuses without medical schools and law schools are poorly funded. Also, the campuses with the highest number of under-represented minority students receive the lowest funding.
In order to correct this problem of unequal funding, a task force has been working on increasing campus equality, but they have run up against several hurdles. First of all, UCOP refuses to provide an estimate of how much it costs to educate undergraduates versus graduates versus medical students. Instead, they have helped to develop a weighted system where each resident undergraduate and masters level student counts as 1, each doctoral student counts as 2.5 and each medical student counts as 5. The current level of state funding per campus is then divided by the student enrollment level for each of these student groups. Even when we take into account the fact that some campuses have more medical and doctoral students, there is still an uneven distribution of funds.
The major problem with this whole methodology is that it does not prevent some campuses from simply increasing their number of highly funded medical and doctoral students. Moreover, campuses are now able to keep their tuition dollars, and the same campuses with medical centers and/or high levels of doctoral students are also the ones with the highest number of out-of-state students. The end result will thus be that rich campuses will get richer, while the poor campuses will get poorer.
While the task force does recommend a slow process of increasing the funding of some of the campuses to keep up with the weighted average of UCLA per student funding, the task force failed to justify its calculation of the weighted averages. Since no one is even trying to estimate how much it actually costs to educate different types of students, it is unclear how the task force is making its calculations. While it is very possible that we will see a growing inequality of funding among the campuses, it is not clear that the campuses with more funding will increase their support for undergraduate education. For example, if a campus brings in more medical and doctoral students to increase their share of state funding, and these students cost much more to educate than the assumed weighted averages represent, then the wealthier campuses will have to continue the process of using undergraduate tuition to subsidize expensive graduate and professional program. Until UCOP decides to actually estimate the actual cost of education, all of the decision makers will be making important choices in the dark.