Facing stiff opposition from Governor Brown, students and legislative leaders, University of California regents suddenly delayed a scheduled vote Wednesday on a plan to raise annual tuition and system fees by $342, or 2.7 percent, next year. The controversial matter will now be decided in May, potentially giving more time to obtain extra funding from the legislature.
Just as a special highly anticipated meeting began Wednesday afternoon, UC president Janet Napolitano announced the surprising vote delay and said much lobbying work is ahead before the issue is decided. “I think we need to show that we have done everything possible, that we have done things to contain costs…I think we need to demonstrate we have done everything we can to increase state funding,” she said.
Napolitano had proposed the tuition increase and then agreed to the delay, clearly trying to avoid antagonizing the governor and legislative leaders who have been pushing for more efficiency in the university. Yet, she did not abandon the idea altogether.
Brown, who is a regent, did not attend the meeting in San Francisco but sent a letter Wednesday urging regents “to reject outright” the tuition proposal. He called it “premature” and wrote: ”Economic expansions do not last forever and the future is uncertain. More work is needed now to reduce the university’s costs to ensure that students and families have access to an affordable, quality education.” Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon also has criticized the tuition proposal, as did a petition signed by several thousand UC students.
Napolitano and others originally pushed for the tuition hike following the unveiling of Brown’s 2018-2019 state budget, which offered 3 percent increase in general funds for the University of California and Cal State systems. University leaders had said UC needed at least at least a 4 percent raise for the ten-campus system to afford student enrollment growth, pension costs, hiring more faculty and improving mental health services, among other items. The debate had intensified as Brown took a shot at UC during a press conference and said, “they’re going to have to live within their means.”
The proposed tuition increase would have been the second consecutive annual one after a previous five years of freezes.
The proposal would have brought total UC tuition and system wide fees to $12,972 a year for California students in the 2018-2019 school year. Out-of-state students would see a $978, or 3.5 percent, tuition increase, to $28,992. (Campus fees, housing, food and other costs can add another $22,000 to a student’s total bill.)
UC officials also had said that low-income students would be shielded from any extra costs. The proposed tuition increases would have produced about $136 million in extra revenues and $47 million of that would go to financial aid, officials said. They note that 56 percent of California undergraduates have their entire tuition fully covered by various state, federal and private grants and scholarships. For eligible students, state Cal Grants usually rise to match tuition increases at California public universities.
But even if financial aid is generous, student leaders said that many low-income students may not be aware that they are eligible and may be scared away from even applying to UC because of sticker-price shock. Plus, the aid does not necessarily provide enough for the high cost of living in California and many middle-income families are struggling with UC costs, they emphasize.
Napolitano said that the regents may have to act on increasing the tuition for out-of-state students in March to allow for more notice but that the regents could wait until May for the vote on tuition for California residents.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is a regent and a candidate for governor, said he “applauded” the delay but he warned about potential problems ahead in negotiating with the governor and legislature. Brown doesn’t believe that UC is doing enough to reduce costs, Newsom said. Newsom also alluded to the recent controversy about Napolitano and other UC officials meddling in a state audit of presidential spending as another source of mistrust.
Student regent Paul Monge said Wednesday that students have not seen much evidence that last year’s tuition hike resulted in any easing of classroom crowding and increasing access to mental health services. Before voting for another hike, UC should study “the impact and whether we delivered on the promises,” according to the UC Berkeley law student. Otherwise, he said UC “should not continue to treat our students like an ATM machine,” going back repeatedly to them for more money.
Next week, the Cal State trustees are scheduled to discuss next year’s budget for that 23-campus university system but are expected not to vote on a possible tuition increase until at least March. Officials have said that Cal State tuition may rise $228 or 3.9 percent next year, up to $5,970 for a full-time California undergraduate. Cal State leaders, like UC’s, are unhappy with Brown’s funding plan for higher education.