Under intense pressure not to raise tuition for the second consecutive year, California's public university systems have delayed votes to increase student fees and turned their attention back to the Capitol to lobby the state for more money.
Hundreds of California State University students and faculty, joined by Chancellor Timothy White, rallied in Sacramento on Wednesday, calling on Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers to cover the cost of an anticipated 4 percent tuition hike in the forthcoming state budget. University of California students, facing a possible fee increase of nearly 3 percent next year, visited the Capitol last week.
Legislative leaders are supportive of their efforts. Both Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon spoke at Wednesday's rally.
"We can never balance the CSU budget on the backs of students and their families," Atkins told the crowd. Rendon said, "We all know we need to provide more state funding to keep Cal States affordable and to increase access."
But neither had a specific figure yet for how much additional funding they would push for in the budget. In interviews, they said it was still early in the process, and with other issues like schools and health care also demanding attention, they could not say where averting the tuition increases would fall as a priority.
Brown has made it clear he's not interested in either raising fees or giving UC and CSU more than the 3 percent boosts to their state funding, roughly $92 million each, that he proposed in January. At a press conference, he said the universities would simply have to lower their cost structures and "live within their means."
"You’re getting 3 percent more and that’s it," Brown said. "They’re not going to get any more. They’ve got to manage. I think they need a little more scrutiny over how they’re spending things."
His office confirmed Wednesday that his position has not changed. Brown has also threatened that future budget increases could be smaller if the UC and CSU hike tuition, because more money set aside for higher education will have to go to the Cal Grant financial aid program rather than the universities directly.
Both systems are set to vote on their tuition proposals next month, after Brown unveils his revised budget proposal but before the Legislature passes a final deal in June. It would be second increase in a row for California students, after a six-year freeze.
CSU is considering a plan to raise fees by $228 annually, to $5,970 in the 2018-19 academic year. It is seeking about $171 million more than what Brown offered, to add courses, hire more faculty and expand academic support services as part of its ongoing initiative to improve graduation rates. The university also wants to give employees raises, do building upgrades and admit more of the approximately 30,000 qualified students now being turned away from CSU each year for lack of space.
After delaying a vote in January because of student outcry, UC could hike tuition and fees by $342, to $12,972 in 2018-19. Nonresident students would see their supplemental tuition, which they pay on top of other costs, grow by 3.5 percent to $28,992. The university is asking for another $140 million, to hire new faculty, increase course availability, expand access to mental health services and fix aging campuses as it aggressively adds more students under a deal with Brown.
Atkins, however, suggested that the governor may ultimately relent.
"In past years, we have found a way to do a little better," she said. "So I'm going to trust the process and trust that this will work."