Politics & Government

Napolitano wants University of California tuition freeze

University of California President Janet Napolitano on Wednesday proposed freezing undergraduate tuition for the 2014-15 academic year.

Napolitano said the measure will give officials time to consider overhauling how the UC sets tuition, but it may also be an attempt by the UC system to gain leverage in upcoming budget negotiations at the Capitol.

Today regents are expected to discuss a funding request by the UC of about $121 million more next year than Gov. Jerry Brown has suggested he may propose. Napolitano declined to say if the tuition freeze is contingent on that funding being approved.

“We are going to fight very hard that there will be no tuition increase,” she said, “but it’s important that the state play its part.”

With the UC’s request coming ahead of Brown’s budget proposal in January, Napolitano said, “Let me just say that we put the marker out there.”

Napolitano, speaking at her first meeting of the UC regents since becoming president of the 10-campus system, said administrators will study alternative ways to set tuition to avoid dramatic price increases in future years.

“We need to figure out, in the real world in which we live, how to bring clarity to, and reduce volatility in, the tuition-setting process,” she told regents. “It’s time for this university to collaboratively come up with a better way.”

One option she said officials will consider is a so-called cohort tuition, in which students are assured that the tuition they pay when entering college will not dramatically change during four years as an undergraduate.

UC administrators said the tuition freeze would apply only to undergraduate tuition but that the system is not currently considering any requests for increased fees at its graduate professional schools.

Napolitano’s proposal to keep undergraduate tuition steady for a third consecutive year is in line with Brown’s previous funding proposals. After passage of his ballot initiative to raise taxes last year, the Democratic governor called for moderate annual increases in the UC budget as long as the university system does not raise tuition at least through the 2016-17 academic year.

Trustees are expected to discuss the university’s budget in more detail today. Brown, who sits on the UC board, participated in a conversation Wednesday about potentially increasing the amount of funding available for graduate students, and appeared to temper expectations in advance of broader budget talks.

“It’s all more, and it all sounds good, but somehow we need to have some parameters here,” Brown said. “When we get to the budget, you’re all going to ask for a 10 percent increase, but you’re only going to get a 5 percent increase, so we’re dealing with parallel universes.”