For the first time in four years, University of California leaders are proposing tuition hikes — as much as 5 percent in each of the next five years — to help cover rising costs and to expand the enrollment of California students.
For undergraduates who are California residents, tuition next year could rise to $12,804, not including room, board and books. By the 2019-20 school year, that could increase to $15,564.
UC needs more money to help cover rising costs of retirement benefits, fund recent pay increases in employee contract settlements, hire more faculty and raise the number of California undergraduates by 5,000 over five years from the current 166,250, according to the proposal being formally released Thursday.
Given all those pressures and goals, a tuition freeze could not continue into a fourth year, UC system President Janet Napolitano said.
“The three-year hiatus was about as long as was wise,” said Napolitano, who became UC president just over a year ago after serving as U.S. secretary of Homeland Security and Arizona governor.
Napolitano said tuition hikes could be reduced or even eliminated in all or some of the years if state funding for UC rises above the 4 percent annual increases currently anticipated.
If the state doesn’t increase its UC spending, she said, she wanted to provide the 10-campus university and its 238,400 students a more dependable, longer-range and moderate schedule of increases. This comes in contrast to the steeper and erratic hikes imposed on students before tuition was frozen for the last three years, she said.
The proposed series of 5 percent increases “is the worst-case scenario for California students and their families, but it is a very predictable scenario,” she said in an interview.
The proposal is scheduled to be debated and voted on by the UC regents at their Nov. 19-20 meeting in San Francisco, a gathering that could attract sizable student protests if history is repeated. Key regents said they expect the board will approve the plan.
An important voice could be that of Gov. Jerry Brown, who serves on the regents board and won voter approval for tax increases two years ago that helped make the tuition freeze possible. He has opposed tuition hikes in the past and has criticized salary raises for UC executives while pushing for university spending cuts.
The proposal is sure to face some student opposition. Even before Napolitano’s plan was detailed, the UC Student Association last week began a petition drive asking the regents to continue the freeze or to reduce tuition. “We have the right to seek long-term, sustainable funding sources that take the burden off students, and not only freeze tuition, but roll back tuition,” the online petition said.
Including various campus charges, room, board and books, the annual cost of a UC education now can total more than $30,000 for California residents; the growing number of students from other states and nations pay about $23,000 on top of that.
The maximum 5 percent hikes would translate into somewhat larger dollar amounts in each subsequent year after 2015-16: $642, $672, $702 and $744.
Officials, however, note that only about 30 percent of UC undergraduates from California pay the full amount for their current $12,192 tuition, and the rest receive some financial aid. With federal, state and university grants and tax credits, about half have all their tuition covered, UC said.
Under the plan, a third of the tuition revenue would continue to be devoted to financial aid. And the state’s new Middle Class Scholarship program will provide some relief to families earning as much as $150,000 a year.
UC tuition and basic fees tripled over the decade starting in 2002, with a series of controversial hikes as high as 30 percent in a single year. The recession and its deep impact on tax revenue led to steep cuts in state funding for UC.
But as the recession lifted and voters approved the temporary tax hikes in Proposition 30, prospects improved and, under pressure from Brown, UC has kept tuition stable since 2012. Still, UC officials say that the $2.64 billion in state general revenue funds for UC this year is $460 million below what it was seven years ago.
The extra revenue would help to hire more faculty, add classes, make it easier for students to graduate within four years and enroll more in-state students.
Many parents and state legislators are angry that UC has sharply boosted the number of out-of-state undergraduates — now about 20 percent of freshmen — for the extra tuition they pay. Napolitano said she expects the regents will look at possible limits on non-residents after the financial picture becomes clearer in upcoming months.
But her plan calls for out-of-staters to pay 5 percent more each year in basic tuition plus 5 percent more annually in their supplemental charges.
Graduate and professional school students face the 5 percent hikes too, and many of them would see even higher bills.
About 14,000 graduate students in more than 50 programs such as law, medicine, social work and business also must pay so-called professional degree supplemental tuitions that range from $4,000 to $38,500, and those would go up by as much as 5 percent annually as well. Some master’s programs in nursing would see a one-time 20 percent rise.
Bruce Varner, the Riverside attorney who is chairman of the regents board, said he expects “a robust discussion, of course, and a lot of different ideas” about tuition at the upcoming meeting. He said he expects a majority of regents will support the plan as long as the commitment to increase financial aid is kept.
The proposal brings “a consistent and stable approach to tuition that can be adjusted and hopefully adjusted downward depending on what the state does,” he said.
Regent Russell Gould, who is chairman of the board’s long-range planning committee, said he too expects it will pass after facing some initial public opposition.
“Tuition is always sensitive but I think if we don’t surprise people and it’s modest, people understand,” said Gould, who is former director of the state Department of Finance. “They want their degrees to mean something and we want to protect the quality of the education at the university.”
UC investigated alternative plans such as charging different tuition levels by majors or campuses and possibly delaying tuition bills until after students graduate. Napolitano said all of those ideas proved too complicated and difficult to administer, and would possibly raise arguments among departments and campuses.
She noted that the UC tuition next year will remain below that of such other top public research-oriented schools such as the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of Virginia and the University of Illinois.
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