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Annual Accountability Report shows strengths, challenges

The University of California enrolls more low-income students than any other leading research university in the United States. Even more impressive: UC’s strong financial aid program has shielded low-income undergraduates from the brunt of recent tuition increases.

In fact, low-income students pay less for a UC education today than they did six years ago, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Provost Aimée Dorr presented those and other findings from the university’s annual Accountability Report when the UC Board of Regents met last week at UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus.

President Mark G. Yudof initiated the annual report in 2008 as a tool for improving transparency and accountability. It measures how well the university is doing on key performance indicators and provides valuable trend data on issues related to teaching, research and public service.

“The data reflect what we hear anecdotally. UC continues to do a tremendous job at ensuring affordability and access, especially for financially disadvantaged students,” Dorr said. “But we also see clear evidence that state budget cuts are starting to impact quality.”

Most notably, the number of ladder-rank faculty has declined over the past two years, as UC campuses, pinched by state cutbacks, have limited hiring while the number of faculty retirements and other departures has held steady. Other quality measures also show the budgetary strain facing UC:

  • Teaching loads are increasing for Academic Senate faculty, a reflection of increasing student enrollment coupled with reductions in faculty hiring.
  • Faculty salaries lag behind comparator research universities, and the gap in pay is getting wider between UC and top private research universities.
  • UC faces increasing competition in recruiting and retaining high-caliber faculty, a challenge that is compounded by lower salaries.

State appropriations for UC have fallen by 27 percent since 2008-09, or roughly $900 million. (With another year of fiscal uncertainty looming, the UC Board of Regents also held a daylong retreat to discuss strategies for coping with a projected budget shortfall that could reach as high as $2.9 billion in five years.)

Dorr used data from the Accountability Report to lead a discussion on how UC is doing on its benchmarks for quality. UC needs to address its budget crisis in a way that preserves and upholds UC’s status as a world-class research university, she said. That means finding the resources to employ outstanding faculty and staff, recruit high performing students, and maintain an environment that fosters robust research and scholarship.

“The real threat to the University of California is not on (student) access, and it’s not on affordability. It’s on quality,” Dorr said.

Many people would be surprised to know that state appropriations have fallen to such an extent that they now account for just 11 percent of UC’s budget for the entire system of 10 campuses, five medical centers and numerous research facilities, she said. Yet those funds — together with tuition — are one of the few sources that UC can tap to pay for its essential educational mission.

“Right now, there are very few ways we can replace those core funds,” Dorr said. “People say, ‘just raise more money’; they don’t understand that most fund sources have constraints.” That gives state funding critical importance when it comes to things like faculty hiring and other expenditures that are key to UC quality, Dorr said.

“More Californians are beginning to understand that our funding problems come from Sacramento,” Dorr said. “If the university is going to continue to be the outstanding higher education institution the state deserves and needs, the state needs to join with UC and many others to make that possible.”

For more on the Accountability Report, follow these links:

>>See the full report.

>>See a summary of the report key points on the UC Newsroom.

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