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Regents examine deficit strategies in daylong retreat

The UC Board of Regents, in a daylong retreat on Sept. 12, looked at dozens of proposals for addressing the university’s growing budget deficit, from academic strategies to changes in employee health and welfare benefits.

The retreat, called by Board Chair Sherry Lansing, was intended to give regents a deeper understanding of the hard choices they may be called on to make in November after voters decide the fate of Proposition 30.

The initiative would raise new state revenue through temporary increases in the state sales tax and personal income tax on those who earn $250,000 or more per year. It is sponsored by Gov. Jerry Brown and is part of the 2012-13 budget approved by state lawmakers. If it fails, UC’s state revenue will fall by $375 million, a cut that comes on top of years of declining state revenue.

In the last four years, UC’s state appropriation has fallen by $900 million — the equivalent of 27 percent — even as mandatory costs and student enrollment have grown. Costs for health benefits and other required items are projected to continue to rise; absent an infusion in new revenue, UC’s budget deficit could reach $2.9 billion in five years.

Among the proposals on the table were ideas from administrators, faculty and student leaders from all 10 campuses. President Mark G. Yudof opened the meeting by urging board members to focus on decisions that would preserve UC’s excellence in teaching, research and public service.

“For too long decisions about UC’s quality have been passive — and the outcome has been a quiet but steady erosion of our academic quality at almost every level,” Yudof said.

The marathon session included ideas as diverse as raising parking fees to complex proposals to allow differential tuition, based on campus or major. One of the few that seemed to garner virtually unanimous support was the plan — already under way as part of Working Smarter, UC’s administrative efficiencies effort — to implement shared, systemwide purchasing agreements.

UC already is racking up savings big and small by leveraging the purchasing power of all 10 campuses, said Chief Financial Officer Peter Taylor. Insurance construction costs have fallen by $17 million, for example. There is much more that UC can do, he said, but departments at some locations have been resistant to the change.

UC potentially could save $100 million or more a year by leveraging campus purchasing power, according to estimates. Several regents wondered aloud whether they should pass a policy mandating compliance.

There was much less agreement over the suggestion that UC raise the cap on out-of-state and international undergraduate students. It currently is set at 10 percent, although enrollment actually is below that level, at 8 percent.

One idea is to raise the cap to 15 to 20 percent, which still would be well below the average at most of the nation’s other elite research universities. At the University of Michigan, for example, non-resident undergrads comprise 35 percent.

Nathan Brostrom, UC’s executive vice president for business operations, told the board that for every 1,000 non-resident students admitted to UC, the university garners about $23 million that can go into the academic mission.

“That tuition revenue helps maintain quality, access and affordability,” Brostrom said.

Go to the UC Newsroom for Carolyn McMillan’s full report on the regents retreat.

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