Soapbox

There’s a better way than tuition hikes to fund UC

University of California President Janet Napolitano has proposed a tuition increase that could ultimately boost tuition costs at UC by as much as 25 percent over five years. That’s unacceptable. California students and their families have faced too many increases already.

Instead, UC should work with the Legislature and the governor to get UC the money it needs to remain one of the state’s world-class assets without harming the California students and families the university was created to serve.

The UC Board of Regents is to discuss the tuition plan Wednesday. Here is what I propose instead:

▪ Reject all tuition increases for California students, including Napolitano’s proposal.

▪ Provide an additional $50 million from the state general fund. There has to be additional state funding for UC, and budget projections show we have the resources to honor the state’s commitment to higher education. The California State University system, which has not proposed raising tuition, would also receive additional state funds to increase student services to reduce time to graduate, as well as to increase enrollment.

▪ Increase Cal Grants to lessen the financial burden of higher education on lower income families.

▪ Require UC to maintain all existing institutional aid to students to ensure that students benefit from the increase in Cal Grants.

▪ Accelerate the implementation of the Middle Class Scholarship to cut fees for middle-income families by more than 20 percent in 2015-16.

▪ Double the proposed increase of California students to 10,000 over five years by adding enrollments of 2,000 per year for five years, and ensure California student enrollments increase at all UC campuses.

▪ Cap enrollments of out-of-state students at 2014-15 levels. The Great Recession has ended, and funds have been restored to the UC, so the time has come to end the practice of backfilling state cuts with students who pay out-of-state tuition and push out California students. Capping out-of-state enrollments also allows UC to focus its outreach resources on the diverse underserved communities in California. Keeping fees low helps show families in these communities that a UC education is in reach.

▪ Increase tuition for out-of-state students by $5,000 a year, which is still well below other prominent public universities. The increased revenues will help fund enrollments of California students and keep their tuition from increasing.

▪ UC should adopt the pension reforms for new employees contained in the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013.

▪ UC also needs to ensure Californians are getting the most for our money by increasing the amount of teaching that is required and limiting increases in executive compensation.

The state Assembly has demonstrated our commitment to increasing higher education funding and to make college more affordable.

During 2014-15 budget negotiations, the Assembly proposed the highest level of funding for higher education. The Assembly also led the effort to provide an 11.9 percent increase to the Cal Grant B access award, which helps California’s lowest-income students pay for non-tuition college costs, and we restored the 11.3 percent cut to the maximum award for freshmen at private, nonprofit colleges and universities. And the Assembly created the Middle Class Scholarship, which is already benefiting thousands of students who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for financial aid.

So I am confident the proposals outlined above will find strong support among members of the Assembly. As someone who has an amazing UC campus in my district, I know the importance of UC to our economy and the state’s future.

Soon thousands of UC students will be traveling home to spend Thanksgiving with their families. They shouldn’t have to spend their time together figuring out how to – or if they even can – absorb yet another UC tuition increase.

A shared solution of increased state funding for UC and for financial aid, limiting out-of-state students and charging them appropriately and implementing greater efficiencies within UC is the course to take.

Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, is speaker of the state Assembly and an ex-officio member of the University of California Board of Regents.

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