The 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education created a landmark contract between the state and its citizens: Every Californian qualified for entry would have a seat in one of the Golden State's three higher education systems.
But after a decade on the financial chopping block and faced with ever-present budget gaps, what happens when the state is increasingly taken out of the equation? Last month it was learned that University of California President Mark Yudof had granted approval for the UCLA Anderson School of Management's flagship MBA program to move from a state-supported funding model to a self-supported one, where student tuition would cover the entire cost of the program.
The world will not end with this one shift at the Anderson school, which only gets 6 percent of its budget from the state. But it is part of a larger trend that should concern everyone who cares about California's institutions of higher learning.
Anderson's M.B.A. program is the largest professional program both in terms of enrollment and the size of its budget to move to a self-supported standing. It marks another step down the path of what former UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau described as UC's transformation from a "state-supported" to a "state-located" university.
UCLA's announcement came only a day before Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a state budget that included a 5 percent increase to the UC system, which allowed the university to extend its one-year undergraduate tuition freeze for another year.
While the university still faces significant budget challenges, the timing of Yudof's decision sends a mixed message to students, families and faculty. On the one hand, university officials complain about inadequate support from the public and Legislature. Yet right after state leaders and taxpayers have stepped up to increase that support, the university allows another professional program to separate itself from the state, using the excuse of shaky state support to justify such shifts.
It should be remembered that taxpayer dollars helped build institutions such as the Anderson school. Continued public support helps ensure the school remains focused on service to California, as opposed to service to alumni and corporations that contribute to the school.
It would be a vote of confidence in the state for the UC to hold back on further moves toward privatization. It also should reassess some of the revenue-generating moves it made during tight times, such aggressive recruitment of foreign students willing to pay out-of-state tuition.
While the latest budget begins to reverse some of the dramatic cuts of the past, the governor and state legislators must ensure that plans for multi-year funding increases are honored in years to come. And the university needs to do its part by using restraint in spinning off parts of the university into self-supporting subsidiaries.