Description: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the shift to campuses operating re-motely, the economic downturn, and state funding reductions have created fiscal challenges for the California State University (CSU) and the University of California (UC). To help address these challenges, the 2020-21 Budget Act signaled the Legislature’s intent that the universities begin drawing down their core reserves for academic programs. Prior to the pandemic, the most recent data available showed that core reserves totaled $1.7 billion at CSU and $1.2 billion at UC. CSU and UC also plan to use their noncore reserves to maintain their self-supporting pro-grams (such as housing and parking), which have lost revenue due to remote operations. Importantly, though the state viewed the universities’ reserves as a budget tool for mitigating funding reductions this year, state law is silent on the level of reserves CSU and UC are to carry, the purposes of those reserves, and the interaction of those reserves with the state’s reserves. We encourage the Legislature to set clearer expectations regarding the state’s and the segments’ responsibilities for building reserves for future economic uncertainties. Developing a specific policy in this area would benefit from further analysis, as the reserve levels required to respond to any future situation would depend upon many factors (including the magnitude of a future economic downturn and the likelihood the state reduces funding for the universities).
Updated 12/10/20: This post has been updated to reflect new reserve levels at UC Santa Barbara.