Capitol Alert

UC faces opposition from Brown on tuition increase proposal

Royce Hall towers over the UCLA campus in Westwood last year.
Royce Hall towers over the UCLA campus in Westwood last year. Los Angeles Times file

The University of California will likely face serious opposition in implementing its plan to raise tuition by up to 5 percent annually over the next five years, not only from students, but also from Gov. Jerry Brown, who has tied increased budget funding for the system to a four-year tuition freeze.

“The governor remains opposed to tuition hikes for students,” said H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Brown’s Department of Finance. “The governor has made his view on tuition hikes very clear. That’s been clear for two years.”

Following significant cuts during the economic recession, Brown agreed to a “four-year investment plan” for higher education in the 2013-14 budget that would provide two years of 5 percent increases to general funding for UC and the California State University system, followed by another two years of 4 percent increases.

The increased allocations, however, were “contingent on the segments holding tuition flat at 2011-12 levels through 2016-17,” according to the governor’s budget summary. Palmer said the goal was to “maintain affordability,” especially for low-income and middle-class students; UC tuition has more than doubled over the past decade, to $12,192 this year from $5,684 in the 2004-05 academic year, excluding campus-based fees.

By raising tuition on top of funding growth – which could begin as early as next academic year, with base fees potentially increasing by $612 to $12,804 – UC would be breaking with the final two years of that plan.

In a conference call with reporters, UC Chief Financial Officer Nathan Brostrom disputed that there had been an agreement with the governor on a tuition freeze.

“There never was a promise,” he said.

Brostrom said increasing tuition is necessary for UC to stay on top of its mandatory costs, including growing pension and retiree health care liabilities, for which the university does not receive financial assistance from the state. He said UC also hopes to use the additional money to hire more faculty, expand student support services and enroll about 5,000 more California students over the next five years.

The tuition proposal, which the Board of Regents will vote on later this month, assumes continuing annual funding increases of 4 percent, but would allow for lesser or no tuition hikes if state support were greater than that. Next year’s fee increase would bring in about $130 million more for the university, compared with an additional $119 million expected from California.

Brostrom emphasized that UC thinks it is not getting what was promised to the university with the Proposition 30 tax hikes, which increased revenue by 8percent, and that it could avoid raising tuition if the state helped fund its retiree costs.

“If the state were to come in and fund that, then tuition could remain flat for a couple of years,” he said. “On a public policy basis, and an equity basis, we should be getting that money from the state of California,” as CSU and the community colleges do.

Otherwise, Brostrom said, UC may have to increase the number of nonresident students that it admits, who pay a supplemental fee that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars to the university annually, or tweak its financial aid program, which helps cover tuition for students whose families make under $80,000.

The proposal was met with sharp rebuke from UC students and employees after it was fully announced Thursday.

AFSCME 3299, which represents 22,000 service and technical workers in the system, blasted UC for proposing a tuition increase just weeks after approving raises for the chancellors at four of its campuses.

The University of California Student Association criticized the plan for assuming continued increasing state allocations for UC even as the university breaks the tuition freeze deal.

“Students fail to see how this plan provides any greater level of predictability than today’s current situation,” it wrote in a statement. “Instead of using students as political pawns, the UC and Regents should consider partnering with students on a meaningful level to advocate to the state for more funding.”

The Legislature may be amenable to pushing for more higher education money in next year’s budget. In a statement, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said increasing college access and affordability “is a top priority for the Senate.”

“Tuition costs in the UC system are already too expensive,” he wrote. “The state should definitely make larger investments, but the UC system also has to become more efficient.”

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, who spearheaded unsuccessful proposals last session to augment higher education funding, said it would continue to be a priority in the Assembly, but not because of UC’s tuition plan.

“It is disturbing to see students used as leverage in budget negotiations,” Atkins, D-San Diego, wrote in a statement. “By always leading with, and relying so heavily on student fee increases, UC avoids dealing with the tough work required to find other solutions.” Atkins, who is a member of the Board of Regents, said she would vote against the proposal.

The real barrier is Brown, who has shown no 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.

Brostrom said he hoped UC’s efforts to curb its costs would change the governor’s mind next year.

“We generate over $50 billion in direct economic benefit to the state,” he added. “Don’t look at us as an appropriation, look at us as an investment.”

Palmer would not say whether the proposed tuition hike might affect the promised 4 percent funding increase for UC next year, but he indicated that Brown would not consider making additional appropriations to the university.

“This is a proposal, and I’m not going to speculate on what the regents are going to do,” Palmer said. “We’ve got another side of the state budget we’ve got to look at. There are pressures on the expenditure side as well.”

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

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