Public universities have tried almost everything to cut down on costs. Some have imposed furlough days, eliminated staff positions and done away with sports programs.
The American Enterprise Institute, based in Washington, suggests other strategies, including a reduction in the amount of funding for research.
"Everyone talks about football, everyone talks about the gourmet food served in the dining hall and that's not really the way these universities are going to cut costs," said Erica Perez with California Watch. "They need to target some of the core academic stuff which includes research."
The study acknowledges research is essential at some top universities, including Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley.
"It's certainly true that public universities in the U.S. are under a great deal of stress," said Graham Fleming, the vice chancellor of research at UC Berkeley, "but the country cannot afford to back away from fundamental research."
Fleming says our economic competitiveness as a state and as a nation will suffer. UC Berkeley spends more than $700 million, one third of its budget, on research.
The study found teachers at other less reputable universities are spending too much time doing research and less time in the classroom.
"One of the things they were looking at was the fact that the typical course load for faculty used to be 12 units a semester and now it's more like 6 units a semester because most faculty get these releases for research," said Perez.
The study questions whether some universities are really serving the needs of their students. While the costs continue to increase, some students find starting their education at a community college is a more sensible option.
"They remain the most economical avenue to higher education for young students," said Perez, "and older students who have to come back and retrain for jobs."
The study also recommends cutting more administrative positions as a way to cut costs.