Politics & Government

University of California regents debate lifting tuition freeze

Facing a budget shortfall of more than a hundred million dollars, the University of California Board of Regents expressed doubts at its bimonthly meeting Wednesday that it could sustain the current tuition freeze for students.

“Obviously, none of us want to increase tuition,” board Chairman Bruce Varner said. But realistically, “we will need to have increases that make sense.”

After tuition nearly doubled during the recession to make up for massive cuts in state funding, it has been held at 2011-12 levels – $12,192 – for the past three years. Gov. Jerry Brown has offered modest annual state funding increases for UC as long as fees remain flat through the 2016-17 academic year.

But Brown’s January budget proposal, which would allocate another $142 million, or 5 percent, to the university, still falls $124 million short of the UC budget that regents approved last November, said Nathan Brostrom, UC’s executive vice president of business operations. The difference covers three major areas, he added: enrollment funding, deferred maintenance and $64 million in pension contributions.

“Those are the areas we should be hitting on in our meetings with the Legislature and the governor’s staff,” Brostrom said.

Regent Hadi Makarechian argued that it is not viable to keep freezing tuition when fees are the university’s biggest source of income. During the recession, tuition surpassed state funding for the first time as the largest component of UC’s operating budget. Makarechian suggested that recent borrowing and overspending could put UC on the path to bankruptcy.

Some regents strongly disagreed with the prospect of raising tuition. Regent Sherry Lansing said the university should ask for help from the state in funding its pension and retiree health care commitments, as the state does for the California State University system.

“Why are we treated differently?” she said. “It makes no sense.”

Student regent Cinthia Flores said she hopes the university will be “honest and upfront” about the possibility of a fee increase, so that students won’t be hit with another 32 percent jump in tuition “out of nowhere” like in 2009.

In a statement later, UC President Janet Napolitano said, “The tuition freeze will remain in effect for the 2014-15 academic year.”

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