State lawmakers discuss future of higher education at campus forum Tuesday

Loni Hancock

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California State Senators Loni Hancock and Carol Liu discussed the future of higher education at a packed campus forum Tuesday in an effort to raise public awareness about the relationship between government and the public university system.

Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ moderated the one-hour panel discussion, which was part of UC Berkeley’s Fall Colloquium series and was sponsored by the Center for Studies in Higher Education. The panelists addressed questions on the unpredictability of tuition increases, rising enrollment demands, capital funding and accelerating  graduation.

According to Christ, the unpredictable nature of tuition increases not only tends to make university budgeting more difficult but also burdens students and their families. She asked the lawmakers about the plausibility of developing a “predictable formula” for tuition increases in order for everyone to be prepared in advance.

“I would think that would be perfectly reasonable,”  Liu, the District 25 senator, said at the forum. “In fact, we did carry a piece of legislation when I was in the lower house, (but) actually the UCs opposed it. They didn’t want anything that was gradual, predictable or affordable. They wanted do it on their own.”

Christ also said at the forum that a pressing concern in the California higher education system was the intense enrollment burden, especially at CSUs and the UCs.

“I think we need more campuses,” Hancock, the District 9 senator, said at the meeting.“Since (the passage of the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education) our population has doubled … and our number of UCs have stayed pretty much the same.”

Since 1960, UC Merced, UC Irvine and UC Santa Cruz were added to the UC system.

Christ also raised concerns regarding delayed graduation, especially among community college students.

Liu said she promoted a program called “Student Success,” which has been instrumental in providing improved resources to students at community colleges to help them graduate on time. She added that the state has also put another $800 million dollars toward these institutions.

“There needs to be a coming together to really demand and work towards fulfilling the need of our young people, because there is a great demand for higher education and not enough investment into what’s already going on,” Liu said at the event.

When asked of the efforts made by the campus in tackling changes to tuition fees and access for financial aid for out-of-state students, Christ said the UC campuses have sought to balance their budget by increasing their admission of international and out-of-state students, who tend not to get as much financial aid, in order to make tuition affordable for California residents.

“I do believe we should be raising money for financial aid for international and out-of-state students” Christ said.

Contact Parth Vohra at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @ParthVohra622.