Commentary

My Turn: To keep college affordable, we must hold universities accountable

Earlier this year, I called on both the UC Board of Regents and CSU Trustees to halt proposed tuition increases until at least the spring,when the state auditor was due to release two reports on the spending of the UC Office of the president and the California State University system. Joining with other legislators and California students, I argued that the auditor’s conclusions deserved consideration before students were asked to supply more revenue with tuition hikes many cannot afford.

In January the UC Board of Regents nevertheless voted to raise tuition by 2.5 percent and fees by 5 percent. In March the CSU Board of Trustees followed suit, approving a 5 percent increase in student tuition. Whether by chance or design, both votes preceded the April release of audits that have exposed tens of millions of dollars in waste at the UCs and CSUs, throwing into question what exactly students and parents are paying for when tuition is raised.

The state audit of the California State University system, published two weeks ago, has criticized the CSUs for unwarranted salary increases, a lack of budget transparency and a failure to adequately implement the cost-saving recommendations of a previous audit. Of particular concern was the growth in management personnel, which over the last nine years has outpaced the growth of other employee groups by more than twofold and without a clear administrative rationale.

The results of the UC audit are even more troubling. The state auditor released a scathing report on the budgetary practices of the UC Office of the president, revealing that the office has been hiding more than $175 million in budget reserves from the UC Board of Regents, the Legislature and the public.

Also uncovered were undisclosed budgets of more than $100 million, misleading accounting practices and excessive compensation to executives and administrative staff, who earn salaries and benefits seen nowhere else in state government. Other eye-popping findings include $2 million spent over the last five years on entertainment for business meetings. Perhaps most concerning is the audit’s finding that the office of the president intentionally interfered with the auditing process. In her letter to the Governor and Legislature, State Auditor Elaine Howell wrote, “Correspondence between the office of the president and the campuses shows that the office of the president inappropriately reviewed campuses’ survey responses, which resulted in campuses making changes to those responses prior to submitting them to us — campus statements that were critical of the office of the president had been removed, or substantially revised and negative ratings had been changed to be more positive.”

The conclusions of the state auditor leave little room for doubt that even rudimentary reforms could save students and taxpayers millions of dollars. To their credit, both the UCs and CSUs have expressed a desire to implement many of the audits’ recommendations, but that is not enough. Consider that since 2006 the cost of a UC and CSU education has more than doubled. In light of what’s been revealed, this year’s tuition increases should be reversed and new controls put in place to ensure that students and taxpayers are not put on the hook for waste and mismanagement.

As a member of the State Assembly’s Higher Education Committee, I will be working closely on these issues over the year ahead. The focus, as always, must be on ensuring that our world-class university system remains an affordable gateway to the middle class, both for the current generation of California students and the next.

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley represents the California 6th District that includes south Placer County and parts of Sacramento and El Dorado counties.

Special to Village Life

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