22 March 2011

Last one out.

If you are not following the discussion over at Remaking the University on the presentation by Patrick Lenz and Nathan Bostrom to the Regents, well — you should. It seems that for once the Regents got the unvarnished truth about the financial state of the University (although see Bob Samuels' letter to the Regents for a different take).

Here is the bottom line: assuming only 1% year-over-year revenue increases from enrollment growth, 2015-16 revenue for UC will be around $5 billion, but costs will be around $7.5 billion in 2015-16, giving a gap of $2.5 billion (and that's optimistic: assumes tax extensions will be on the ballot and approved by the voters, limited increases in utility costs, etc). A number of measures can be implemented to reduce the deficit: the mythical $500 million in administrative efficiencies, better indirect cost recovery from funding agencies, tuition increases at the professional schools, more out-of-state students. Such savings and revenue increases are projected to add to about $1 billion.

So, how does the University go about closing the remaining $1.5 billion gap projected for 2015-16? There are only two sources of revenue left: state funding and student tuition. State funding would have to increase by 12.4% a year over the next four to five years to close the gap, or tuition would have to rise 18.3% each of those years. Or you could mix-and-match, with, say, 5% increases in state funding and 12.6% tuition increases. 18.3% tuition increases over 4 years, as pointed out by Bostrom in response to a question form a student Regent, compound to 95.85% — double the current levels.

It's clear that the University is out of options. Even the most draconian measures would only go a small part of the way towards filling the $1.5 billion gap:

  • Increasing the student-faculty ration from 21.1 to 1 to 22.9 to 1 (a 9.1% increase) would save about $100 million. Do it 15 times, and you've closed the gap.
  • Replacing 1,100 tenure-track faculty position by non-tenure track faculty, would also save about $100 million in salary and benefits. Therefore, replacing 16,500 TT faculty by lecturers would close the gap. 
  • Eliminating 1,280 staff positions would also save $100 million. You get the picture.

Lenz and Bostrom pointed out that cuts are being "disproportionately" taken at the administrative level on the campuses. That might well be true. But looks like we are well past the point were significant economies can be achieved this way (much less the mythical $500 million). As much as we would like to see extravagant administrative salaries cut to size, the truth is that there is not much money there altogether. And in fact the cuts are pouring all over the place: more than 4,400 people have already been laid off (with more coming) and 3,700 vacant positions have gone unfilled. And my own department's instructional budget, used to support the graduate students with teaching assistantships and readerships, was just cut 25%. We are at the point were the mission of the University is being seriously jeopardized.  And did I mention that the budget of Corrections & Rehabilitation is not being cut, and that the oil severance tax has disappeared from the horizon?

So things are definitely not well at UC. The last one out, please turn the lights off.

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