A UC Irvine alumnus has been working since last July to get an initiative on the statewide November ballot to freeze undergraduate public college tuition at the rate students initially pay when they first enroll.
Chris Campbell, a 2011 UC Irvine graduate, authored the California Constitutional Amendment ballot initiative and is running the campaign “Californians for a Higher Education Contract” in an effort to collect enough signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot.
In his campaign, Campbell aims to provide students with financial certainty regarding the affordability of college through this cohort-based tuition. Should his initiative pass, students will know exactly how much attending a public college will cost by the time they graduate before enrolling.
“I want to stop increases in tuition that occur unexpectedly in the middle of the year and provide stabilization,” Campbell said. “The uncertainty (about tuition costs) that students have keeps them from applying because they know they might have debt afterwards.”
Campbell said he was first inspired to author the ballot initiative after personally witnessing the effects of tuition hikes on students during his years at UC Irvine.
“Tuition hikes almost threw me out of college,” Campbell said. “I realize that I’m not even the one that had it the worst. There were a lot of other students. I understand how unexpected tuition increases can be ruining lives.”
However, the current financial status of the state makes cohort-based tuition unlikely to be considered by the state legislature, according to Steve Boilard, managing principal analyst of education for the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.
“The budget environment is so unpredictable right now,” Boilard explained. “The university really doesn’t know how much state funding it will be getting (in the future).”
Consequently, the UC system is not actively considering cohort-based tuition, according to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein.
“It’s an idea that makes more sense when there is a stable funding environment,” Klein said. “If you have the volatility that we’ve had in the past few years, you get wild swings in pricing between classes, which leads to other problems.”
Boilard said it could be unfair for students to pay different amounts depending on their year.
“I understand the motivation to get more predictability, but you could end up with inequitable situations,” Boilard said. “Under cohort-based tuition, you can have two students sitting in a classroom paying very different amounts of money for the same exact class.”
However, according to Campbell, inequality in tuition costs already exists between students.
“I paid less for my education than what (current UC students) pay,” Campbell said. “The students who go to school after will be paying significantly more than (current students).”
Campbell said that while cohort-based tuition could lead to tuition increases, the goal of the initiative is not to prevent tuition hikes but to keep students from being ambushed by them.
“The university can raise the tuition of students, and in certain cases, they should. However, universities need to put students at the forefront of their minds,” he said. “I know there are budget shortfalls, but that doesn’t explain away the lack of responsibility they’ve shown so far. Universities have no contingency plans to deal with the budget shortfalls because they could always rely on raising student tuition.”