Capitol Alert

UC regents move tuition increase plan forward

UC Berkeley alumna and BAMN organizer Tania Kappner reacts during the UC regents meeting at UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus on Wednesday. UC regents are to vote on a policy that would result in tuition hikes if the state does not help fund the University of California.
UC Berkeley alumna and BAMN organizer Tania Kappner reacts during the UC regents meeting at UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus on Wednesday. UC regents are to vote on a policy that would result in tuition hikes if the state does not help fund the University of California. Sacramento Bee

University of California regents moved forward with a controversial plan Wednesday to raise tuition if the state does not give the system more money, with the proposal expected to be finalized Thursday.

The vote by a committee of regents came over the objection of students, who linked arms to block the entrance to the Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco, and of Gov. Jerry Brown, who moved days before the meeting to appoint two regents opposed to the tuition plan.

The rancorous hearing served as an opening to months of budget negotiations between university officials and the Democratic governor. Brown said the UC system has failed to reduce costs, while regents accused Brown of failing to invest in higher education even as California’s financial outlook has improved.

“If the state doesn’t prioritize higher public education,” Regent Bonnie Reiss said, “our options are limited.”

Her remarks came as the UC board took up a plan to raise tuition by as much as 5percent annually over each of the next five years if the state does not increase funding to the system.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who sits on the board and opposes the tuition increase, said he was certain the full board will approve the tuition plan Thursday, calling it a “fait accompli.”

“The day this was announced, it was a foregone conclusion,” he said. “It’s pretty demoralizing, as the lieutenant governor, to feel you have no influence on the outcome.”

UC President Janet Napolitano said that without additional state funding, the proposed tuition increases are necessary in the face of a “massive state disinvestment” in the system.

She said UC has made deep cuts to administration, faculty and staff and that “while our commitment to cost cutting continues ... the plain fact is that tuition must now be on the table.”

University officials have said increased tuition could help the university expand course offerings, provide more spots for students and fund retiree benefits.

The Brown administration said a tuition increase would break a four-year budget deal in which the state promised increased funding to the UC system in return for a tuition freeze. The state has increased UC funding by 5 percent in each of the past two years, but UC officials say that is not enough.

In a sharp exchange with Brown, regents invoked the higher education legacy of Brown’s father, the late Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, and accused the younger Brown of failing to deliver on the promise of Proposition 30, the tax measure he championed in 2012.

Regent Sherry Lansing said that when regents, faculty members and students rallied around Proposition 30, “it was with the complete understanding that a huge percentage of this money for Prop. 30 would go to fully fund the university so that we could continue with our enrollment growth.

“Sadly, that has not happened,” Lansing said.

The Brown administration said the UC system is receiving more than $640million this year because of Proposition 30, and Brown told regents that the sum, while less than they may want, is “real money.”

Brown proposed that regents consider forming a special panel to address ways to reduce expenses and improve access for students, including through online education and granting credits to students who demonstrate competence through work or other experience.

“I don’t think you considered alternatives to the structure over time that could actually lower your costs,” he said.

Like Brown and Newsom, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat who is a member of the Board of Regents, said she will vote against the tuition plan. So did the two regents Brown appointed earlier this week: former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez and Eloy Ortiz Oakley, superintendent-president of Long Beach City College.

Pérez warned his fellow regents, “I will tell you, as somebody who had to negotiate budgets with this governor and the previous governor, that if you come in in a hostage-taking posture that says, ‘Either give us X or this is what we’re going to do to our students,’ it’s not the most effective way to go about it.”

If the tuition increase is adopted and fully implemented, annual in-state tuition would increase to an estimated $15,563 in 2019-20 from the current $12,192. Out-of-state students would pay as much as $44,766 by 2019-20.

More than half of UC students pay nothing because of financial aid.

Regent Russell Gould said that level of assistance will continue even if tuition is increased. He said the proposed increase is modest and predictable, and he drew parallels between the plan and a ballot initiative Brown championed this month to strengthen the state’s budget reserve. In advertising for the measure, Brown said it was necessary to ease the effects of budget booms and busts.

“Just as the governor did,” Gould said, “we’re trying to avoid the boom-bust cycle that UC has been on for decades, that’s required us to raise tuition dramatically in years when it was really tough.”

UC officials have said a tuition increase of 5percent could net about $100 million next year, with additional revenue from potential enrollment growth and nonresident fee increases.

The hearing Wednesday went forward after students sought to stop the scheduled vote by linking arms to block the entrance to the meeting.

Chanting “UC regents, no more lies! We won’t let you privatize!” and “Hey hey, ho ho, Napolitano’s got to go,” students attempted to keep enough regents out of the building to prevent a quorum. The meeting eventually began about 20 minutes late.

Caitlin Quinn, a senior majoring in political science at UC Berkeley, was among those organizing the protests. Quinn said she was there in her capacity as a member of Berkeley’s student government.

“I don’t think I would be doing my job if I weren’t out here advocating for students to keep their tuition down,” she said.

Students complained they had been reduced to “pawns” in broader budget talks. They and other opponents of tuition increases accused the UC system of spending too much on executive pay and overhead.

Inside the meeting, Karl Pister, a former chancellor of UC Santa Cruz, said the university system is beleaguered by reduced state funding and increased enrollment.

Pister, who said he was speaking on behalf of 17 former chancellors of UC campuses supporting Napolitano’s plan, said the system has remained strong despite “unprecedented state disinvestment” by pursuing policies focused on reducing costs and increasing revenue.

However, he said, “there are limits to the impact of these policies if the university is to remain the leading public university in the world.”

UC Chief Financial Officer Nathan Brostrom said that even as California’s budget condition improves, lawmakers and Brown have directed funding to corrections and K-12 education, not to UC.

“The state has had money,” Brostrom said. “This has been a question of priorities.”

Stanton Glantz, a professor at UC San Francisco and vice president of the Council of University of California Faculty Associations, lamented budget cuts enacted during the recession, saying that when Brown took office, “he slashed higher education.”

Glantz told the regents Brown has continued to commit insufficient funds to the university system and said regents should not argue about how much to raise tuition, but rather how to mobilize public support for increased funding.

Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916)321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.

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