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Napolitano: UC quality not sustainable without tuition hike

2017: Janet Napolitano explains why UC wants to raise tuition for first time in six years

University of California President Janet Napolitano told The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board that UC's six-year tuition freeze is unsustainable.
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University of California President Janet Napolitano told The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board that UC's six-year tuition freeze is unsustainable.

The University of California will seek to raise undergraduate tuition and fees next year by nearly 3 percent, ending a six-year tuition freeze that followed steep rate hikes during the economic recession.

The plan, which UC will formally propose to its governing board at the end of January, would raise tuition for the 2017-18 academic year by $282 to $11,442 and the systemwide student services fee by $54 to $1,128. Tuition has been flat since the 2011-12 academic year, while fees have increased $102 since 2014.

UC President Janet Napolitano told The Sacramento Bee editorial board on Wednesday that the increase would pay for additional faculty members, classes and financial aid as the university adds thousands more students in the coming years.

“We’re now hitting the point where we’re going to miss that sweet spot on quality – on really high graduation rates, on the kind of academic reputation that UC has,” Napolitano said. “There’s only so many years you can go without a rate increase or a small tuition increase that doesn’t sacrifice a lot by way of quality. As much I’d like to say we can sustain this forever, we cannot.”

A tuition hike has been anticipated for some time.

The university ignited a political firestorm in November 2014 when it proposed five years of increases that would have raised its sticker price by more than a quarter unless the state allocated more money to UC’s budget. Napolitano and Gov. Jerry Brown eventually struck a deal to boost funding for four years, but it only required the university to hold tuition flat for the first two.

UC began exploring the idea of raising tuition again last year, perhaps with smaller annual increases tied to inflation.

Napolitano said the proposal was necessitated by a broad expansion of the university’s student body. UC adopted a plan last year to add 10,000 more Californians at its nine undergraduate campuses by the 2018-19 academic year.

That move followed intense criticism by politicians and parents over the rapidly growing number of out-of-state and international students at UC, which the university has defended as critical to offset the steep state budget cuts of the recession and to keep spots available for Californians. Nonresident undergraduates will pay a $28,014 supplemental fee on top of their tuition next year, another increase of $1,332, or 5 percent.

Student groups have already raised vehement opposition to the specter of more tuition hikes. Fees doubled in the five years prior to the freeze, and students are sounding the alarm about the crushing cost of living near UC campuses that have left many unable to afford food and rent.

Ralph Washington Jr., president of the University of California Student Association, said students recognize the precarious financial position that UC is in, but are frustrated about being left out of decisions about how tuition dollars are spent to affect their educational experience. Raising tuition, he said, is “a good opportunity for the UC to demonstrate its commitment to some of the perennial issues.”

The university estimates that financial aid will cover the proposed tuition increase for two-thirds of students. Those who come from families making less than $80,000 per year pay no tuition or fees, while state subsidies are available for families making up to $156,000.

Napolitano said she would support efforts by students to secure a buyout of the increase through the Legislature, but that her plan was not the opening salvo for negotiations with the state. She said raising tuition would actually make more financial aid available than additional funding because the state’s Cal Grant scholarships increase along with fees, allowing UC to provide other types of assistance with the money generated from new tuition, such as housing subsidies.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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