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Report: Higher Education Funding Proposal Too Lax

LOS ANGELES — California Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to increase higher education funding lacks mechanisms to ensure the extra money will result in improved graduation and enrollment rates, according to a report by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office released Tuesday.

The 40-page report also criticized Brown’s plan, contained as part of his proposed state budget for 2013-14, as taking key education policy decisions out of the state Legislature’s hands.

The report said funding increases to the University of California, California State University and the Community Colleges of California should be allocated to pay debt and employee pension costs, and fully fund community colleges as priorities.

If there’s extra money after meeting those priorities, that funding should be specifically linked to benchmark goals for graduation rates and enrollment, the legislative analyst said.

The report noted that only 23 percent of full time community college students graduate or transfer within three years and fewer than half of Cal State students graduate within six years.

Under an agreement reached last fall with the governor, the University of California and California State University agreed not to raise tuition in return for $1.4 billion in additional funding for the 2013-14 academic year.

This fiscal year, the state is spending $11.9 billion on higher education.

The report said an extended tuition freeze was worrisome as it would result in a steep increase in the next economic downturn. It notes that tuition paid by students funds only about 30 percent of the University of California’s costs and just 6 percent of Cal State’s.

Brown also wants the university systems to offer more online courses that would increase student access to high-demand courses. Currently, many students cannot get into needed courses, forcing them to take unnecessary units to remain enrolled and take longer to graduate.

The legislative analyst said Brown’s goal of redesigning the higher education funding system was worthwhile, but funding should be linked to degrees earned, research activity and cost reductions.

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