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Education Cuts Pushes UC "Onward"

Karla Robinson |
November 28, 2012 | 7:13 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter


Did you know more than 600 startups have formed around University of California inventions? Or that the UC Health system delivered 11,000 babies last year? Or that nearly 40 percent of UC undergrads are the first in their family to earn a college degree?

With the Onward California campaign, the UC system aims to show Californians how important the schools’ research and education are as the organization struggles to cope with severe cuts in recent years.

“Onward California is part of an on-going effort to get the word out about what we do and why we’re vital to California and to California’s future,” said Dianne Klein, spokesperson for the University of California's Office of the President. “It was just to let people know who we are and that we are involved in so many aspects of Californians’ lives.”

The almost $3 million campaign included paid advertisements in newspapers, commercials during UCLA and UC Berkeley football games and a statewide mobile tour that offered interactive ways to support the UCs, along with free gelato.

In addition, travelers in the Oakland airport were welcomed with a banner that read “by the time you reach your destination, we’ll probably have a new invention,” noting that UC researchers average four inventions a day.

Although Onward California is a ongoing campaign, the ice-cream truck tour that started in September finished its 24-stop trip late October. More than 35,000 people came out to the stops, with 3,325 stickers added to the “I Believe in UC” wall, 11,800 emails registered and 40,500 gelato bars handed out.

“And they were delicious!” Klein said of the bars, which came in various flavors and related back to the universities - the orange flavored bar, for example, came from UC Riverside’s citrus variety collection.

Naia Gelato opened its first outpost at UC Berkeley and donated $85,000 in bars for the campaign [UC]
Naia Gelato opened its first outpost at UC Berkeley and donated $85,000 in bars for the campaign [UC]
“We’re very happy with [the campaign],” Klein said in a phone interview. “We think it’s been a success. We’ve gotten positive feedback. We’ve engaged thousands of people throughout California. So in that sense, we’re very pleased.”

While Onward California is strictly an awareness program, there is still an underlying message of philanthropy as the UCs look to increase private funding in light of the continually shrinking state contributions.

“Obviously, if people understand the importance of what the university does, they’re more than likely to contribute to philanthropy in the future,” said Klein. “But it wasn’t like we went out with a tin cup and said ‘please give.’”

The passage of Proposition 30 in this November’s election saved the UC system from a $375 million immediate trigger cut, but did not specifically set aside funding for the universities.

"Proposition 30 was extremely important, but that doesn’t end our concerns about the adequacy of the public’s investment in public education," said Joe Radding, administrator of college preparation and post-secondary programs at the California Department of Education. "It’s not surprising that schools and other organizations are continuing to pursue a variety of means for raising funds, and I can certainly predict there’ll be discussions in the legislature this next year about whether we’re at a place where - even with the passage of 30 - are we adequately funding our public schools."

Radding explained in a phone interview that tuition currently accounts for roughly half of the cost of an undergraduate degree, meaning California is still contributing 40 to 50 percent of the costs for higher public education. He did note, however, that the state's contribution was well over half in the 70s. California's public funding is still higher than other states' on a percentage basis, but it's not certain whether funding will increase or decrease in the coming years.

"It really depends on the will of the governor and the legislature to not only stabilize but, to some extent, whether they’d be interested in restoring a percentage of investment that the state had historically been making in educating our public university students," Radding said, noting the state's revenue must also be strong. "[Public investment] paid off for many students and for many businesses and community organizations because our university systems, as well as our community college systems, have been tremendous economic engines for our state and have educated literally thousands, hundreds of thousands of students."

Klein says UC will continue its cost-saving efforts, but the proposition’s success provides “a little breathing room."

Each ice cream flavor related back to the University. [UC]
Each ice cream flavor related back to the University. [UC]
“Maybe we can reinvest in quality at UC,” she said. “The cuts have been so Draconian over these past years, that we were getting down to the bone. And now it’s time to rebuild our core academic mission.”

Radding expressed some concern about extensive private donations to public universities. "If philanthropy becomes a much more significant percentage of the funding for public higher education in California, it starts to shift the locus of accountability," he said. "In other words, the private funders, through their organizations and foundations, might attempt to have a greater say on business-related decisions of the universities and other community colleges."

The Onward California campaign is funded by the Edward F. Searles Fund, an unrestricted gift to UC to finance general purposes that aren’t covered by state funds. While some might question the value of spending $3 million on promotion, Klein said the effort reached a lot of people - an estimated 200 million impressions for the paid media ads alone - for the amount of money spent.

“Just because you don’t have a stake in the ground as a start of a new building, doesn’t mean that one [way of spending money] is more vital or more necessary...It all goes toward maintaining and improving this complicated and pretty terrific system that we have,” she said.

The UC annual operating budget is more than $23 billion with the 10 campuses, 10 hospitals, five medical centers, three national laboratories, numerous research outposts and more. 

“The medical centers, the research, the public service - it’s a lot more than just, ‘can your kid get into Berkeley or UCLA?’” Klein said.

“It’s the economic engine of the state,” she continued. “We are the third largest employer in California. For every $1 that’s invested in the University, it generates $14 in economic activity,” she added, referencing a recent study.

In addition to the Onward California campaign, the UC system designed a new minimalistic logo to be used on certain materials going forward. The traditional University of California logo featuring a book and the school's motto, "let there be light," will still be used, and the UC isn't spending any money to change the logos on existing signs or materials.

The new logo was inspired by the traditional one, taking the outline from the book to create the top of the new "U." The logo was used predominantly in the Onward California campaign and is featured on new merchandise.

The graphic neon rebranding demonstrates a step away from the University's formality, or as Klein jokingly put it: “we’re hip.”


Reach Staff Reporter Karla Robinson here.



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