In 2012, when the voters were asked to approve Proposition 30, it was students’ votes, promised that there would not be tuition hikes, that in part helped pushed the tax increase to victory. But now, barely two years later, the University of California Regents, over the vehement objections of Governor Jerry Brown, have approved fee increases of up to 5 percent a year for the next five years, starting next fall.
Governor Brown, say what you will about him, likes to keep his promises.
As the San Francisco Chronicle wrote on Wednesday, “As head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and governor of Arizona, Janet Napolitano has had her share of political fights — but as University of California president, she may have finally met her match in Gov. Jerry Brown.”
The governor did not mince words this week – if tuition goes up, UC can forget about getting extra money from the state.
“The governor has made it very clear that funding increases for UC are contingent on tuition remaining flat,” stated Brown press secretary Evan Westrup. Despite two new appointments this week, including former Speaker John Perez, Governor Brown lost the regents’ vote.
Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, also a regent, slammed Ms. Napolitano, calling the tuition proposal “disrespectful to the governor” and “tactically naive.”
The question is now whether this is, in fact, a threat or a promise by Governor Brown. The LA Times reported on Friday, “Asked Thursday about the governor’s UC funding plans, his office said only that ‘next steps will be outlined’ in his January proposal for the 2015-16 state budget.”
Governor Brown previously stated that the four percent revenue increase would only continue if the tuition freeze continues. Ms. Napolitano counters that UC needs that four percent, plus another five percent more in tuition.
UC received $2.64 billion from the state this year which is $460 million less than seven years ago.
“I’m the president of the university and my job is to make the case for the university. So I’m very respectful of the governor. I disagree with him but I’m very respectful,” Ms. Napolitano said.
The move triggered Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins to issue a statement, “I am extremely disappointed the UC Regents voted to raise tuition and impose new burdens on middle class students and their families. There are other steps we can take to get UC the funding it needs. I offered an alternative that would prevent tuition increases, but unfortunately a majority of Regents dismissed them, just as they dismissed the concerns of the students who traveled to the meeting to comment. To UC students and their families, please know that the fight over this nearly 28% fee increase is not over. I will continue advancing my proposal to increase state funding for UC, reject fee increases, cut UC’s administrative costs, and ensure the University of California puts California students first.”
Speaker Atkins is a member of the UC Board of Regents and has proposed an alternative plan that would increase funding for the UC system without raising tuition. Speaker Atkins’ proposal includes the following items:
- First, reject all fee increases for California students, including the nearly 28% fee increase in President Napolitano’s proposal.
- Additional funding of $50 million from the state General Fund. The California State University system, which has not proposed raising fees, would also receive additional state funds to increase student services to reduce time to graduate, as well as to increase enrollment.
- Increase Cal Grants to lessen the financial burden of higher education on lower income families.
- Require UC to maintain all existing institutional aid to students to ensure the increased Cal Grant benefits are realized by the students.
- Accelerate the implementation of the Middle Class Scholarship to cut fees for middle income families by more than 20% in 2015-16.
- Double the proposed increase of California students to 10,000 over five years by adding enrollments of California students by 2,000 per year for five years and ensure California student enrollments increase at all UC campuses.
- Cap enrollments of out-of-state students at 2014-15 levels. The Great Recession has ended, and funds have been restored to the UC, so the time has come to end the practice of backfilling state cuts with students that pay out of state tuition and push out California students.
- Increase tuition for out of state students by $5,000, which is still well below other prominent public schools. The increased revenues will help fund enrollments of California students and keep California students’ fees from increasing.
- UC should adopt the pension reforms for new employees contained in the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013.
- UC also needs to ensure Californians are getting the most for our money by increasing the amount of teaching that is required and limiting increases in executive compensation.
Students were quick to denounce the tuition increase, which triggered protests across the UC campuses. Unlike a few years ago, most of these protests were peaceful.
The question is why did UC choose to pick a fight with the governor and speaker of the assembly when their funding is directly tied to the decisions made by the legislature and governor? Increasing tuition by five percent but losing 4 percent in increases to state funding is not a good tradeoff.
“Seeing you all come in laughing and smiling and talking about stuff made me sick to my stomach,” UC Davis student Amelia Itnyre told the board through tears before the vote. “Students, we aren’t just angry, we are sad. You should be crying, you should be praying, you should be figuring out what you are going to do to fix this.”
“This is a plan that is integral not only to the stability, but also to the vitality, of the University of California,” Ms. Napolitano said. “While our commitment to cost-cutting continues, the plain fact is that tuition must now be back on the table,” she added.
So when the governor cuts their funding, are they going to go back to the regents to increase tuition again? And why didn’t they simply ask the governor to increase funding by more than the four percent?
This all seems pointless but one thing is clear – the people who will lose are going to be the students and the middle class in California who will see the cost of education go up… again.
—David M. Greenwald reporting