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Allan Hancock College officials have spent considerable time and energy trying to hook up with four-year degree programs from the California State and University of California systems. So far, not much luck.

CSU and UC officials say budgetary problems have prevented such connections, insisting they simply don’t have the funding to make those four-year slots available to community college transfer students.

And then came a report from the state auditor’s office that CSU officials have been secretly holding $1.5 billion in so-called discretionary reserves. A fact that sort of throws some shade over the whole idea of CSU budget problems.

The report reveals the essentially hidden money situation at the same time CSU decision-makers have authorized increasing tuition and other student fees.

Chief Auditor Elaine Howle's report indicates CSU accumulated the huge surplus from 2008 to 2018, mostly from tuition paid by students — tuition that nearly doubled at CSU’s 23 campuses.

Higher tuition was a publicized matter, but apparently CSU’s shifting funds into undisclosed accounts was not fully advertised. Neither state lawmakers nor students were made aware of the surplus or the slush fund into which it was stashed.

CSU’s campuses play host to just under a half-million students, who were paying about $3,000 tuition in 2008-09, then up to nearly $6,000 by the 2017-18 school year. The math is clear.

The state audit indicates the CSU chancellor's office used the money to cover the cost of instruction and other operating expenses, keeping the money outside of the state treasury and not disclosing the surplus in key documents it provided to lawmakers and students.

As might be expected, CSU administrators said in a statement last week the auditor’s report is misleading, mischaracterizing the purpose of those reserve funds, which are supposed to help CSU cope with recessions and cover the cost of maintenance and other expenses previously paid for by the state. If that is truly the case, why not be open and up-front about it? Why hide the funds, especially from members of the state Legislature, who are responsible for allocating higher-education funds?

CSU officials also dispute the auditor’s findings with regard to “hiding” the money, insisting "dozens of presentations” of publicly available reports included information about the money.

The auditor’s report recommends CSU be required to publish complete details of its discretionary funds, and improve overall fiscal transparency. That is the very least a public university should do.

The report puts the ball in the Legislature’s court. If public institutions funded with Californians’ tax dollars refuse to follow the spirit of the full-disclosure concept, lawmakers must create a legislative path to requiring such disclosure.

Lots of folks complain about too much government oversight and too many layers of regulations, but from the absence of such controls comes the sort of behind-closed-doors behavior apparently demonstrated by CSU’s leadership.

And for local students seeking a four-year college degree, this makes CSU’s lack of interest in providing a pathway to higher education because of budgetary problems seem lame.

This circles us back to a belief we’ve held for years — that community colleges should be authorized to start four-year degree programs of their own. It’s being done now on a piecemeal basis, but it needs to move forward, quickly.

Our nation’s demand for educated and trained workers will not diminish, and if America is to remain competitive in global markets, we will need all the college graduates we can get.

That is a concept apparently lost on some leaders in California’s university systems.

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