University of California Regents must believe a stork is magically going to appear to deposit new, fully grown, 18-year-old students onto their campuses. They partially justified their recent 25% tuition hike because they expect an increase in enrollment. Obviously, they have not examined the impact of the state’s plummeting birth rate that is now the lowest since 1987.
The number of babies born annually in California has plummeted by 18% since 1990 — from a peak of 612,000 to just over 500,000 in recent years. Reflecting that decline, the number of high school freshmen — potential college applicants in 4 years — already has dropped by 11% since 2004-05. Obviously, there will be fewer high school graduates available to apply for future admission to the University of California or the California State University systems. Forecasts by the California Department of Finance also confirm a decline in the number of high school graduates.
But education administrators at all levels have a bad habit of claiming they need more money to accommodate increasing enrollment. The California Teachers Association maintained that myth for years even though K-12 enrollment peaked back in 2004. In 2013, there actually were fewer K-12 students enrolled than there were 11 years earlier in 2002.
The University of California may be successful in recruiting more non-resident students, but there is no evidence to support a projected increase in college-ready California high school graduates. If the UC plans to grow out-of-state and international enrollment, they have an obligation to make sure those students are paying their full tuition cost and that we are not subsidizing non-residents.
A private company faced with the similar challenge of running a business with little prospects for growth would probably begin to consider cutting fat — unnecessary expenses — to maintain a healthy outlook for the future. The UC website shows that in 2012, it had 191,000 employees to care for 197,000 resident and 31,000 non-resident students. That is an absurd ratio of nearly one employee for every single student. To be fair, many of those personnel are part-time employees — UC calculates they are the equivalent of 140,000 full-time employees.
Furthermore, by their own definition, 70% of its personnel are classified as “non-academic” — only 30% of them were counted as “academic” employees. But even the latter “academic” employees are defined as “academic administrators, regular teaching faculty, lecturers and other teaching faculty, student assistants, researchers, librarians, cooperative extension researchers, university extension faculty and other academic personnel.” Obviously many of the so-called academic employees probably never see the insides of classrooms.
It appears there are simply too many non-teaching employees inflating tuition costs and siphoning off resources that should be directed to classrooms. It is clearly time for the governor and Legislature to rein in this apparently bloated UC bureaucracy. The outrageous 25% tuition increase will obviously add to the staggering personal debt already being incurred by too many students and their families.
The California higher education system has truly been one of the state’s crown jewels that needs to be appropriately funded. One legislator’s proposal to move to a zero-based budgeting analysis for the UC system seems to be a sensible approach to planning the real financial needs.
Many of America’s oldest corporations have prospered by challenging their 100-year-old organization structures with the simple question, “How would we organize if we were starting from scratch today?” For the good of their students, the regents need to ask themselves that same question.
Locally, enrollment of high school freshmen in the Valley — Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Madera counties — has followed the statewide trends. Registration of ninth-grade students peaked eight years ago at 29,000 and has declined 9% since 2005. Unless there is a radical improvement in the area’s future high school graduation rate, the demographics indicate there will be minimal change in demand for college admission.