California Legislative Analyst Slams Governor's Higher-Education Budget

February 12, 2013

Gov. Jerry Brown's plans to give California's public colleges and universities more state money in the coming fiscal year hit a snag on Tuesday. A legislative analysis advised lawmakers to discard several elements of the higher-education spending plan his budget proposes.

In the Democratic governor's proposal, the state's three higher-education systems would receive 4 percent to 6 percent more state money in the next budget than they received for the current year. In exchange, however, Mr. Brown expects state institutions to "maintain current tuition and fee levels" over the next four years; to increase access to courses online, especially required "bottleneck" courses; and to limit the number of course units students are allowed to take at in-state tuition rates to 150 percent of the number needed to earn a degree, in order to "encourage students to identify an educational goal and reach it in a timely and efficient way."

In a report released on Tuesday, the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst's Office agrees that the governor has "drawn attention to some notable problems," but also says its analysts have "serious concerns with several of his specific budget proposals."

Mr. Brown's proposal "cedes substantial state responsibilities" to the college and university systems "and takes key higher-education decisions out of the Legislature's control," says the report.

Increased spending should have more oversight from the state, it says, and should be tied to more-specific performance benchmarks for the institutions.

A tuition freeze, says the analysis, may have short-term benefits but also could result in a very steep increase in the future.

In addition, the report concludes, Mr. Brown's proposals are unlikely to achieve the results that the governor is seeking or could be achieved without any increase in state appropriations.

"Instead of basing funding entirely on enrollment or on vague performance expectations," the analysts wrote, "the Legislature would establish clear expectations in areas such as program completions, degrees earned, research activity, and cost reductions."