Capitol Alert

Tuition hike delayed as UC takes up budget fight at Capitol

Amid fierce objections from students, lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown, the University of California’s governing board agreed Wednesday to delay its vote on a proposed tuition increase.

“This will give us time to make our case to the Legislature,” UC President Janet Napolitano said during a meeting of the Board of Regents in San Francisco, as she announced plans to move the vote until May. “It is just the beginning of the budget process. The need for funding is obvious.”

The regents were deeply divided over the tuition hike, which likely would have failed had it come up on Wednesday, according to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who sits on the board and is a vocal opponent of the proposal. In an interview, he applauded the delay for putting Brown and the Legislature back on the hook to boost funding for UC and avoid a fee increase.

“Every year we go through this kabuki where we do the hard work,” he said of the regents’ unpopular votes to raise tuition. “This state, what are its values? What does it prioritize?”

The current plan would raise tuition and fees by $342, or 2.7 percent, to $12,972 in the 2018-19 academic year, the second consecutive increase after a six-year freeze.

UC officials say additional revenue is needed to hire new faculty, increase course availability, expand access to mental health services and fix aging campuses as the university adds students. They have expressed disappointment in Brown for proposing to raise state funding for UC by only 3 percent this year, despite a 2015 budget agreement that had the university planning for a 4 percent increase.

“We can’t hire the instructors or staff the sections that students need, so students when they register will be unable to get the programs that they need for timely progress to their degree,” UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said.

But Brown has vehemently rebuffed those concerns in recent weeks, criticizing tuition hikes as a drain on state resources, because it must direct more money to financial aid, and calling on the schools to “live within their means.” Just hours before the vote, Brown sent the regents a letter in which he encouraged them to “reject outright” the tuition plan.

“This tuition increase is premature,” he wrote. “More work is needed now to reduce the university’s costs to ensure that students and families have access to an affordable, quality education.”

Regent Eloy Ortiz Oakley noted that after a string of scandals, including a state audit that found the Office of the President was sitting on undisclosed reserves as it raised tuition, UC has clearly lost trust with the public about why it needs more funding to operate.

“Unless and until we deal with that directly, all of these arguments are only being heard around this table. Nobody cares about this argument,” he said. “The public is not understanding the challenge that we face.”

Under the tuition proposal, a supplemental charge for out-of-state and international students would also grow by $978, or 3.5 percent, to $28,992. The regents will reconsider that item in March.

Student protesters, recounting the burdens of their soaring college costs, urged the regents to vote no.

“When you choose to increase tuition, you take away money for food, for groceries. When you choose to increase tuition, you take away money for rent,” UC Berkeley student Dana Alpert said during the public comment period. “When you choose to increase tuition, you create obstacles that prevent students from receiving the education that we deserve. Please, show us that you actually care about our education.”

Rise California, a campus-based political organization that formed last year to advocate for free college, said it collected more than 3,000 signatures from students for a petition opposing the tuition hike. Founder Maxwell Lubin dismissed UC’s “false promises” that the neediest students would be protected from the fee increase through increases to financial aid.

“The reality doesn’t bear that out,” he said.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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