Politics & Government

University of California plans annual tuition increases for five years

This 2011 photo shows a group as they walk through the Sather Gate on the University of California, Berkeley campus.
This 2011 photo shows a group as they walk through the Sather Gate on the University of California, Berkeley campus. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The University of California will unveil a plan Thursday to raise tuition 5 percent annually over the next five years unless the state increases budget support beyond what is expected.

UC said the proposal – which would kick in during the 2015-16 academic year with a potential $612 tuition increase – is an effort to increase financial stability, maintain student services and financial aid, and provide families with more advance notice of what they might owe.

If fully implemented, the annual cost of base tuition and fees for a California resident will jump from $12,192 this academic year to an estimated $15,563 in 2019-20.

“Students and their families need to know, up front, what the total cost of a UC education will be, how much financial aid they can expect and what their tuition will buy,” UC President Janet Napolitano and Bruce D. Varner, chairman of the Board of Regents, wrote in an op-ed article provided to The Sacramento Bee.

“The state and the university need to invest in the academic excellence that has made UC into what is widely recognized as the best public university system in the world. … We strongly believe it is a better way.”

The Board of Regents will consider the proposal when it meets later this month.

The “long-term stability plan,” as the op-ed piece dubbed it, is UC’s latest effort to deal with growing costs and falling public support that have plagued the university financially in recent years. Huge budget cuts during the economic recession led to layoffs, major tuition increases, and an expanding focus on recruiting students from outside California, who pay additional fees.

The proposal “will enable the university to enroll at least 5,000 more Californians over five years and invest in the academic quality that students and their families expect,” Napolitano and Varner wrote in their article.

“Adoption of this new model also will ensure that the university can maintain its current financial aid program,” they added, which helps cover tuition and fees for students whose families make under $80,000.

Raising tuition next year, however, would break a deal with Gov. Jerry Brown to freeze tuition levels in exchange for four years of general funding increases in the state budget. After falling by up to $1 billion during the recession, UC’s allocation has grown by 5 percent over each of the last two years and was set to rise by another 4 percent each in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 fiscal years.

Napolitano and Varner wrote that a 4 percent funding increase from the state next year would result in only a 1.7 percent growth to UC’s academic budget – “less than the rate of inflation, far less than what’s needed to meet student and university needs.”

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who sits on the Board of Regents, was critical of the proposed plan, noting that UC recently gave significant pay raises to chancellors at four of its campuses and intends to continue those systemwide.

“The University of California cannot bestow pay raises on its top earners with one hand, while continually taking more from students and their families with the other and deflecting criticism by laying its solution at the door of taxpayers,” Newsom said in a statement. “New funding must be tied to earnest and innovative attempts to reduce the university’s cost structure and promote affordability and accessibility, not threats that reward the status quo.”

UC spokesman Steve Montiel said the plan assumes annual 4 percent budget increases going forward, with a 5 percent tuition hike on top of that.

“If there were increased money from the state, that would open the possibility for lowering the increase or doing away with it altogether” in any given year, he said.

The additional money UC seeks now would be used to hire more faculty, expand course offerings and improve student support services, Montiel said, with an ultimate goal of raising graduation rates and decreasing the time it takes for students to get a degree.

Brown has not shown any interest in expanding funding for UC beyond the already agreed-upon increases. He ignored the university’s requests this year for another $100 million and vetoed a legislative proposal in September that would have given UC $50 million for deferred maintenance.

Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar said higher education should be a top funding priority for the state, and that he thinks UC has been shortchanged for promised money from the Proposition 30 tax hikes. But he added that “this is a terrible way” to go about getting more funding.

“They’re putting a gun to our head,” Huff said. “It’s not good to hold the Legislature hostage. It’s not fair.”

Huff also said he is concerned that continued tuition increases are putting a “bigger and bigger load” on paying students, while approximately half of UC students don’t pay anything because of various financial aid packages.

UC tuition and fees have more than doubled in the last decade, to $12,192 this year from $5,684 in the 2004-05 academic year, excluding campus-based fees. During the height of the recession, before the tuition freeze went into place, the cost of attending a UC campus went up by more than 15 percent for three consecutive years, including a 25.7 percent jump in 2009-10.

Montiel said the proposal was an attempt to create a five-year budget plan and “get rid of the volatility” in tuition that often follows an extended freeze. Recent periods of stability have subsequently led to massive jumps in costs for students, such as a seven-year stretch of flat and decreasing tuition that ended with three straight years of increases above 10 percent, including 30 percent in the 2003-04 academic year.

“Rather than having, say, three or four years of tuition frozen and then a year where it’s going up by 20 or 30 percent, have it be moderate, predictable increases,” Montiel said.

Napolitano and Varner noted in the op-ed article that the 5 percent tuition increase would extend to out-of-state and international students, who pay an additional $22,877 annual fee that the university says supports about 9,000 California students not funded by the state. UC has faced growing criticism in recent months over its decision to accept more nonresident students, and Napolitano said last month that the university would soon review its policy.

Montiel said increasing tuition, across resident and nonresident students, was necessary to create slots for the 5,000 more California students the university hopes to enroll over the next five years.

“From her first days as president, Janet Napolitano has wanted to increase California enrollment,” Montiel said. “Yes, she has concerns, the regents have concerns, about the balance between resident and out-of-state students. But at the same time, it’s the tuition from out-of-state students that has allowed enrollment to be what it is of California students.”

Call The Bee’s Alexei Koseff, (916) 321-5236. Follow him on Twitter @akoseff.

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