The Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) released a report in August that offers suggestions to California and its universities to deal with recent budget cuts.
The report looks at the issue of the state as a whole. It specifically targets the issue of infrastructure and building maintenance within the state for long-term benefits, which includes the UC system.
“I think our suggestions, if adopted, would focus the state’s higher education investments more on instructional space rather than some areas [such as research],” said Steve Boilard, director of higher education at LAO in an e-mail interview. “They could also limit the construction of new facilities, while focusing more on renovating existing facilities. Our recommendations also are intended to increase the efficiency of UC facility utilization.”
From 2001-10, the three segments of California colleges – University of California, California State University, and California community college-have spent an estimated $41 billion on infrastructure. Support for this comes from state and non-state sources, stated the LAO in the report.
The focus of the LAO report is to prioritize spending on critical areas. Concerning the universities, these areas include renovation and maintenance of existing facilities, reconsidering space that is supported by the state and distance education or online classes.
“We are well aware of the scope of the problems and are actively working to mitigate the effects,” said Dianne Klein, a spokesperson for the University Office of the President, in an e-mail interview. “As the report points out, in this time of severe state budget cut-backs our infrastructure needs are greater than ever. We are, in fact, already implementing many of LAO’S suggestions.”
According to the report, the universities rely on non-state funds to support certain types of non-academic infrastructure that the state does not typically support. Some of the non-state sources include fees for resident halls, parking fees from parking garages and medical center revenues for medical center space.
Infrastructure projects such as seismic repairs throughout the 10 universities have been put on hold until funds can be found, Klein said.
“As the LAO report mentioned, since 1979 the University of California has retrofitted 74 percent of its facilities to withstand earthquakes, but that still leaves over a quarter. Of buildings rated seismically ‘poor’ or ‘very poor,’ 15 percent are still in need of repair or replacement,” Klein said.
Walker Hall, at UC Davis, will be closed at the end of the year due to state legislature denying funding for seismic retrofit, Klein said.
The LAO report also acknowledges distance education-education delivered through the internet or television – as a means to reduce demand for new building space at the universities.
“By educating online those students who would have otherwise attended class in person, the segments could reduce the need to build new infrastructure,” stated the LAO in the report.
Boilard said that expanding distance education could increase student access to higher education.
“I do think that distance education requires that we rethink the basis of funding for higher education – do we pay per student? Per course? Per credit hour?” Boilard said.
ALICIA KINDRED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.