While the growth of the faculty and regular workforce of the University of California has kept pace with the growth of student enrollment over the past two decades (about 40 percent cumulative increase), the ranks of "management and senior professionals" have swelled 220 percent in that period.
A recent California Common Sense report revealed two trends that appear to offer immediate opportunities to curtail university spending in the face of even more cuts to state spending for higher education: rapidly expanding management staff and ongoing construction. Savings realized from slowing spending in these two areas could be used to offset tuition increases, threats to the system's academic quality or both.
Undeniably, universities need to change their staff and maintain construction to adapt to the 21st century. Still, compromise should be possible.
University administrators have yet to provide a compelling reason for why management growth is outpacing that of other employees by 5 to 1. Though medical schools have been the fastest-growing part of the university system, campuses without medical schools have actually seen some of the fastest management growth. "Management" and its support staff (which has also grown more than 150 percent over that 20-year period) have drawn 20 percent of all university salaries - or about $2 billion annually - in recent years.
Also, UC has pushed ahead steadily with construction projects over the past seven years despite the fluctuating and uncertain state funding, spending more than $1.5 billion on construction annually. Although construction projects are planned and their funding secured well in advance, they can be stopped and delayed on short notice because the university receives construction funding in stages. In fact, when the state froze a portion of its construction funds in 2008, the university shut down some projects immediately.
Of course, a better approach would be to scale down construction more smoothly. Because much of the construction funding comes from bond sales, such a drawdown would extend the life of already obtained capital funds and reduce the need for additional borrowing. And because most bonds must be repaid with interest from either the university's or the state's general funds, this step would free up money for other purposes.
Even taking increasing enrollment into account, it is difficult to argue that current space cannot be used more efficiently, that medical and professional schools cannot fund their own capital investments, and that upgrades cannot be more limited.
In efforts to balance its budget, the state continues to cut higher education funding. Last year alone, the University of California and the California State University systems had their funding cut twice, losing $100 million each in November to state budget "trigger cuts," on top of the $1.5 billion cut from higher education in the June 2011 budget. Now the governor proposes to cut an additional $254 million.
UC's primary response, defended as unavoidable, has been to increase tuition fees. Resident undergraduates' tuition has tripled over the past decade. As tuition grew more than 40 percent from 2009 to 2010 alone, student protests became a staple of news reports across the state.
UC administration has warned for several years that faculty and staff salaries are falling below market rates, with faculty salaries dropping below 90 percent of market average in the past two years. Should the trend persist, UC will find it difficult to attract and retain teaching and research talent.
However, given that the state is unlikely to restore funding in the near future, can the university balance tuition increases with cost-saving measures while maintaining the system's educational quality? It would appear so. Reassessing the spending on middle management and construction would be a good place to start.
UC's middle management
Described for this study as people with positions such as business systems analysis manager, director of office of planning and analysis, payroll office manager, computer operations manager, computer programming manager. Management positions include actual managers as well as director level positions.
-- 4,568 The number of managers in the UC system in 2010
-- $118,000 Estimated average annual base salary
Published Version: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/06/10/ED751OV60N.DTL#ixzz1xSFLFIft