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California state budget increases funding for various UC programs

The University of California received a historic amount of state funding for the 2021-2022 academic year. (Ashley Kenney/Photo editor)

By Megan Tagami

Sept. 18, 2021 9:56 a.m.

According to UCLA faculty, the 2021-2022 California state budget has the potential to significantly impact college accessibility and affordability for University of California students.

The budget, enacted July 1, allocates more than $547 million in ongoing funding to the UC, according to an emailed statement from UC Office of the President spokesperson Ryan King. The budget also restores the $300 million that was cut from the UC’s budget in 2020 because of the projected decline in state revenues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the budget provides more than $728 million in one-time funding to support UC programs and initiatives such as energy efficiency projects, classroom renovations and emergency financial aid for students.

Campus-specific centers and programs will also receive funding. For example, the UCLA Labor Center will receive $15 million, and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies will receive $5 million. The Bunche Center plans to use the money to support programs such as the Black Policy Project and Million Dollar Hoods, a research initiative focused on studying and ending mass incarceration, according to UCLA spokesperson Jessica Wolf.

Daniel Mitchell, professor emeritus at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and Luskin School of Public Affairs, said the $300 million cut in funding in 2020 created challenges for the UC. Although many students were not on campus, the UC experienced few reductions in expenses during the pandemic and faced a loss in revenue due to the reduced dorm occupancy, Mitchell said.

In response to its loss in state funding, the UC established a hiring freeze and put off increasing the salaries of nonrepresented workers in 2020, King said. He added that the recent restoration of previous budget cuts has allowed the University to end these measures.

Mitchell said the state originally did not anticipate a surplus of money for the 2021-2022 budget. In 2020, the governor and legislature projected that the pandemic would depress the economy and made significant cuts to the budget, he said. However, because of unexpectedly high tax revenue and decreased state spending in 2020 and early 2021, California entered the new fiscal year with a budget surplus, Mitchell added.

Ozan Jaquette, an associate professor at UCLA School of Education and Information Studies, said he thinks the state budget prioritized higher education because leaders recognized the importance of restoring university funding to previous levels. Following the 2008 recession, California drastically reduced appropriations to higher education institutions, especially the UC, Jaquette added.

“There’s no end (to) things that the state could spend on,” Jaquette said. “It’s a statement of wanting to fund higher education at the levels that it used to be funded.”

Between 2007 and 2013, state funding for the UC and California State University declined by more than 30%, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Mitchell also said the recall election may have impacted the legislature and governor’s funding priorities. As many California residents are concerned about the high costs of tuition at public universities, Democratic leaders likely recognized that funding higher education would be a popular decision, Mitchell added.

Joshua Hagen, the senior manager of Policy and Student Success Initiatives at the Campaign for College Opportunity, an organization dedicated to advocating for accessible higher education in California, said the budget significantly expanded the Cal Grant, which will receive $155 million to end eligibility requirements relating to community college students’ ages and time out of high school.

Eliminating these Cal Grant requirements will increase the affordability of students’ paths from California Community Colleges to the UC, King said.

The plan also calls for the 2022-2023 budget to allocate an additional $515 million to the Middle Class Scholarship program and provide $31 million to help UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and UCLA increase their student resident populations. The plan calls for these campuses to reduce their nonresident enrollment to 18% of the undergraduate population over five years.

In fall 2020, UC Berkeley, UCSD and UCLA enrolled the greatest number of nonresident undergraduate students, according to the UC website. At UCLA, nonresident students made up almost 23% of the undergraduate population.

[Related: California Legislature proposes bill to reduce number of nonresident UC students]

Despite the current budget’s calls for future investments in higher education, Mitchell said it is not guaranteed that next year’s plan will include these provisions, especially because of ongoing uncertainties of how the pandemic will affect the economy.

“You can make a deal (with the legislature), but you can’t really enforce it – it’s just an expression of intent,” Mitchell said.

With the funding that the current plan calls for, the expanded Middle Class Scholarship would advance the UC’s goal of providing a debt-free college experience for its students, King said.

Jaquette said increased funding for the Middle Class Scholarship and other UC programs goes hand-in-hand with the state’s efforts to expand in-state enrollment. He added that, because of declining state funding in previous years, the UC has looked to enroll more out-of-state and international students, who pay almost $30,000 per year in nonresident supplemental tuition fees.

“If the new normal is (that) the state is going to fund the system, then the University of California will act accordingly,” Jaquette said. “And they’re not going to be as aggressive about trying to get high tuition revenue students who pay out-of-state price.”

Hagen said by increasing the number of available seats for in-state residents, the UC and CSU can better accommodate students looking to transfer from community colleges.

UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said in an emailed statement that the university supports the state’s goal to increase resident enrollment.

If the budget plan proposed by the governor in January 2022 includes funding to support in-state enrollment efforts, UCLA would start by reducing its nonresident enrollment by 1%, which would open more seats for California residents, Vazquez said. UCLA would then work with UCOP and the state legislature to adjust its enrollment goals, Vazquez added.

In addition to the uncertainty surrounding funding for the Middle Class Scholarship and in-state enrollment efforts, Mitchell said it is unclear if the budget allocations will remain at the same levels in the future. He added that he believes the UC Board of Regents’ recent decision to implement a cohort-based tuition model reflects its skepticism about future state funding for the UC.

“The regents are not sure that the good times will flow forever,” Mitchell said.

Jaquette said he agreed that there is uncertainty regarding state appropriations to the UC, adding that he does not believe the University will lower tuition anytime soon.

Despite future uncertainties, Hagen said the current budget takes important steps in promoting college affordability and reflecting the economic hardships students have faced, especially during the pandemic.

“There’s a lot to love in this budget,” Hagen said. “Our systems are still underfunded, they can always use more money, but given the projections of where we thought we would be a year ago, it’s a much better financial situation.”

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