UC tuition increase proposal conflicts with governor’s funding model

Benjamin Shenouda/Staff

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OAKLAND — With the introduction of a potential tuition increase policy, two plans for funding the University of California — one offered by the university and the other by Gov. Jerry Brown — are at odds.

In a new tuition policy released Thursday, the university plans for up to 5 percent increases in tuition and fees per year for five years, on top of at least 4 percent increases in funding per year from the state. In the plan, which will be considered at the November UC Board of Regents meeting, the tuition increases could be “bought out” — or eliminated — by the state through funding increases above the 4 percent level.

The policy is in stark contrast to Brown’s plan, which offers the 4 percent increase in state funding per year for the next two years contingent on the university keeping tuition flat.

In practice, this policy links tuition levels to the amount of state funding increases the university receives. Hypothetically, in the case that the state pulls the 4 percent increases in state funding, students could see tuition and fees increase by more than 5 percent.

The policy is expected to be passed by the regents. The tuition increase would break a three-year tuition freeze and would bring systemwide fees for in-state students from $12,192 to $12,804 in 2015-16. Out-of-state students would see systemwide fees increase from about $35,000 to $36,800.

The state has already expressed its disapproval of the policy.

“The governor remains opposed to a tuition hike on students. Increased funding for UC in the governor’s budget is in fact contingent on tuition remaining flat,” said H. D. Palmer, spokesperson for the state department of finance. “The governor has been pleased over the last few years that we’ve been able to keep that commitment to the university.”

Nathan Brostrom, chief financial officer for the university, said the university had been in conversation with Brown, who did not express support for the policy.

“We’ve spent a lot of time with him, and we have a fundamentally different vision of what the university should be,” Brostrom said.

The policy comes at a time when state funding for the university remains $460 million below what it was eight years ago despite enrollment growth. The university has said that such a tuition increase will allow it to enroll 5,000 more California students over the five years and maintain its commitment to financial aid.

With a third of generated revenue going to financial aid, approximately 55 percent of California students will continue to have their systemwide fees fully covered. The university expects that 31 percent of California students will foot the full bill of the tuition increase, which is expected to bring in $130 million in additional revenue.

But Kevin Sabo, a UC Berkeley student and board chair of the University of California Student Association, said this “negotiation tactic” essentially holds students hostage.

He said it uses students as political capital to place a risky bet that the state will not pull its current level of funding increases.

“The university and the state can sit there and throw the hot potato back and forth, and either way, we basically lose,” Sabo said. “We’re in the worst possible situation we could be in. We’re basically hostages.”

UC President Janet Napolitano, however, holds that the plan simply reflects the reality of much-needed funding.

“It’s not holding anyone hostage, I think this is just where we are,” Napolitano said. “We all recognize this is the best public research university in the world, but you can’t have a tuition freeze indefinitely at the current level of state support that we’re receiving.”

Student Regent-designate Avi Oved, who found out about the proposal Wednesday, said the policy was intended to put focus on the diminishing state contribution to the university.

“Janet Napolitano and the regents do not want to have a tuition increase — that’s the last thing they want,” Oved said. “They want to reframe the debate around state funding.”

Additional funding from the state is substantially lower than the past state cuts, according to Hans Johnson, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. This reduction happens not out of any malicious plan, but because higher education funding is easy to cut as it is not protected by law, Johnson said.

The university says the plan can stabilize costs for students hoping to attend the university.

“We’ve been whipsawed by the boom-and-bust cycle of state funding,” Brostrom said. “The university has passed on that volatility to students and their families.”

The increased funding from the tuition increase would partially go to the student-faculty ratio and additional course offerings.

“It’s definitely a frustrating situation. Because of lack of state support, students and families are forced to fill that gap in funding,” Oved said.

Sabo, who met with Napolitano on Wednesday to review the proposal, said the president was straightforward with students at the meeting. Still, the process left little room for student input, he said.

“All these decisions are basically made behind closed doors,” Sabo said regarding the policy. “It’s really frustrating and insulting to be the main people affected by a policy but have little control over it.”

Since its proposal, all 10 UC chancellors have supported the policy, while the UCSA and the university’s service and patient care workers union have rejected the policy. State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, who sits on the Board of Regents, also said she would vote against the plan at the November meeting.

The board meeting will be held Nov. 19 and 20 at UCSF Mission Bay Campus.

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