Editorials

UC regents place college costs on front burner

From left to right, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Gov. Jerry Brown and University of California President Janet Napolitano listen to students speak Thursday at the UC regents’ meeting in San Francisco.
From left to right, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Gov. Jerry Brown and University of California President Janet Napolitano listen to students speak Thursday at the UC regents’ meeting in San Francisco. The Associated Press

The victory was seemingly as clear as it is sobering for families: The University of California can now raise tuition by as much as 5 percent a year for the next five years.

After two days of raucous hearings punctuated by student protests, last-minute vote stacking and the spectacle of UC regents invoking the legacy of Gov. Jerry Brown’s late father, the university’s governing body decided 14-7 on Thursday that the university needed the option.

Score one for UC President Janet Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona, who had warned that the state’s long disinvestment from UC was eroding the quality of the 10-campus system, and that she was willing to resort to hardball.

Napolitano has pushed questions of the college costs and the public university’s future to the top of Brown’s to-do list. That may or may not be a good thing.

The battle moves now to the Capitol, where, even as the regents spoke, the governor’s spending proposal for next year was being drafted. It’s Brown’s move. With the stroke of a pen, he could make it unnecessary for Napolitano to further soak the one-third of UC students who don’t qualify for financial aid and so pay full fare for their educations.

It wouldn’t be hard. The plan approved by the regents allows the state to “buy down” the increase with extra funding year by year.

The argument can be made that UC students already are paying far more for their educations than the system’s architects intended. And the state budget is, for the moment at least, running a $2.2 billion surplus for 2015-16. The governor has a clear path if he wants to be generous.

But as the regents were warned by former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, whom Brown appointed to the board a scant two days before the voting, assuming, as Napolitano did, “a hostage-taking posture” at the start of negotiations tends not to bring out the Santa Claus in California’s famously tight-fisted chief executive.

Many interests will be clamoring for a share of that surplus. Many state mandates will be whisking chunks of it away before anyone even sees it.

The governor, if he likes, could simply shrug sweetly at Napolitano and wish her luck with the mob of parents who soon will be at her door, bearing pitchforks.

We hope he won’t. As we have said before, both sides need to give a little. Napolitano needs to cut administrative fat and find more ways to streamline expenses, and Brown, who has been too cheap both with the UC and the California State system, needs to increase state support.

Ideas for compromise have already been floated by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Léon and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. We believe there’s a deal to be struck, if the governor-on-governor hardball softens.

It’s time now for all parties to remember that no one in this battle will emerge a winner if California students lose the war.

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