Capitol Alert

Napolitano makes case for University of California tuition increase

University of California President Janet Napolitano has proposed 5 percent annual tuition increases over the next five years. Most of the revenue would go to “reinvesting in academic quality,” she said.
University of California President Janet Napolitano has proposed 5 percent annual tuition increases over the next five years. Most of the revenue would go to “reinvesting in academic quality,” she said. hamezcua@sacbee.com

University of California President Janet Napolitano said Friday that UC officials had no choice but to propose annual tuition increases of up to 5 percent over five years because the system has been shortchanged by state lawmakers, despite UC’s value to Silicon Valley and other key parts of the state economy.

“At a certain point, you say, ‘Wait a minute, you’ve got to raise your hand.’ We’re raising our hand,” Napolitano said during a meeting with The Sacramento Bee editorial board.

Napolitano made the case for the tuition increase days before UC regents will consider the plan during their meeting in San Francisco on Wednesday. She acknowledged that the proposal has received a chilly reception from Gov. Jerry Brown and other lawmakers since its Nov. 5 unveiling, yet hopes officials will keep an open mind as budget season gets underway.

“It would be helpful for everybody in state government now to take a breath and actually look at what’s happened in terms of public investment in higher education in California,” she said. “This is not designed to make us lazy. What it’s designed to do is enable us to do our jobs and do it better.”

The Brown administration and some other lawmakers have said the UC proposal would break a four-year budget deal that trades annual increases in state funding for UC in return for a tuition freeze. Lawmakers have increased UC funding by 5 percent in each of the past two years.

That’s not enough, Napolitano said. Budget cuts during the recession reduced state UC funding by several hundred million dollars, triggering staff cuts, fewer classes and large tuition increases. “The state can obviously do more,” she said. “When you look at the state disinvestment in higher ed ... it is pretty darn shocking.”

The proposed tuition increase would take effect during the 2015-16 academic year, with a potential $612 tuition hike. If fully implemented, annual tuition for a California resident would increase from the current $12,192 to an estimated $15,563 in 2019-20. Out-of-state students would pay $36,828 next year, and up to $44,766 by 2019-20 under the plan.

Less than one-third of students pay full price for a UC education, with 55 percent paying nothing at all because of financial aid.

Of the estimated $100 million that would be generated annually by a 5 percent tuition increase, one-half would go to improve academic quality. That would translate into restoring classes, offering more courses that students need to graduate on time, and hiring and retaining faculty, Napolitano said.

About a third of the money would go to financial aid programs. And 20 percent would be spent to increase undergraduate enrollment by 5,000. Napolitano said the plan would provide much-needed predictability for current and would-be students and their parents, instead of the sudden double-digit percentage hikes during the recession.

“Would we like to freeze tuition? It’s always nice – I was very popular when I froze it last year,” she said. “But what happens then is you freeze it too long, the cap comes off and you’ve got a spike.”

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, offered an alternative to the UC proposal this week, calling for significant increases in out-of-state tuition to avoid the need for increases to California residents. Napolitano was noncommittal. “Obviously that’s something to be looked at,” she said.“It would not in and of itself solve this problem.”

In a study released Thursday, the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found that UC and California State University tuition has tripled in the past 20 years. Yet system expenses on salaries, benefits and other costs have not increased significantly, according to the report. Rather, “the tuition increases over the past several years have merely shifted the cost from the state to students and their families,” the study said.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and other critics of UC’s tuition plan have said regents shouldn’t increase tuition while awarding pay raises to chancellors and other top executives. Regents recently gave significant increases to chancellors at four campuses and intend to give more systemwide. Friday, Napolitano said the system’s administrative costs have gone down.

Napolitano contended that UC provides huge benefits for all state residents, with graduates and researchers helping to make the state economy – from its wine industry to Silicon Valley – what it is today. UC researchers also have put California in the running to be the center of the next generation of research related to genomes, an organism’s DNA.

The state could lose out on the potentially lucrative industry and others if UC shrivels, she said. “Why should the state invest in University of California? Do the taxpayers get anything for that investment?” she said. “I think you can line up that argument pretty darn well.”

Call Jim Miller, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow him on Twitter @jimmiller2.

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