Tuition plan comes in wake of history of state disinvestment

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The University of California released a plan Thursday to increase tuition over the next five years, a policy that comes in the wake of state disinvestment and one that clashes with Gov. Jerry Brown’s vision of higher education funding.

The plan calls for up to 5 percent increases in tuition and fees on top of 4 percent increases in state funding each year for the next five years — which would bring 2015-16 in-state systemwide fees to $12,804 from $12,192. Additional funding from the state above the 4 percent margin could partially to totally eliminate the tuition increase.

In the weeks leading up to the release of its tuition plan, the university had said that meeting long-term funding needs would likely require stable tuition increases along with funding from the state, alternative revenues cost-saving efficiencies.

Brown’s policy for university funding and the new tuition plan conflict, with the state plan promising 4 percent funding increases as long as tuition remains flat. In contrast, the university plan increases tuition unless the state provides about a 7.3 percent increase in funding.

Patrick Lenz, UC vice president of budget and capital resources, said in an interview with The Daily Californian that the funding compacts — the informal agreements proposed by the governor concerning university funding — have not exactly been advantageous to the university.

Since Gov. Peter Wilson, four compacts have been made with the university, each a four-year agreement, including the most recent by Brown. Only Wilson’s, from 1995 to 1999, was carried all the way through, with the compacts of Gov. Gray Davis and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ending after two years because of budget crises, according to Lenz.

With each compact have come more expectations for university improvement, Lenz said, from increasing enrollment to improving time-to-degree. But in the last two decades, the university has seen a dramatic decline in state funding, with current funding $460 million below what it was eight years ago, despite enrollment growth.

This leads to increasing state expectations for university improvement — but actual funding doesn’t really increase and can even decrease, Lenz said.

“Clearly, this has kind of been a battle with the Department of Finance and with the governor’s assumptions,” Lenz said.

Funding for higher education is easy to cut  in comparison to state expenditures such as K-12 education funding that are legally protected, according to Hans Johnson, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.

“I understand we’re having a tough fire season. I understand the other cost drivers and pressures coming from the state,” Lenz said. “But with each year, in my opinion, that we fail to restore funding to the UC and CSU, there is an impact — not only on the students we have an ability to serve, but on the future economic viability of the state.”

H. D. Palmer, spokesperson for the state department of finance, pointed to these same cost pressures as problems to be wary of when considering spending additional state funds. He said the governor did not support the tuition plan.

But the university does need more funding, according to John Douglass, senior researcher at the UC Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education.

“Without a significant infusion of funding — some combination of state funding and higher tuition — it seems unlikely that Californians will have the same level of access to the UC that previous generations benefited from,” Douglass said in an email.

The plan has been criticized in light of the pay increases given to four chancellors at the September board meeting, including 20 percent increases for three of those chancellors.

In a university document detailing the plan, the university justified the pay increases, saying chancellors were still paid below the market level. Furthermore, it pointed to the efficiency measures the university has instituted since the recession that have saved a total of more than $660 million.

University of California Student Association Board Chair Kevin Sabo also criticized the plan as threatening tuition increases for students in order to get funding from the state.

“This is essentially a hostage plan,” Sabo said.

Under the university’s plan, enough of the new tuition revenue would be directed to financial aid so that the 55 percent of California students who now pay no tuition and fees will continue to do so.

However, both State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Lieutenant Gov. Gavin Newsom, who sit on the Board of Regents, have expressed displeasure with the plan. The UCSA — which discussed the policy at its board meeting Sunday — is also planning to speak out against it at the Board of Regents meeting on Nov. 19, when it will be considered.

Daniel Tutt is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @danielgtutt.