By Mikhail Zinshteyn, CalMatters
Get ready for whiplash: After receiving $ 1.3 billion in new money from lawmakers this year, the University of California is now looking to increase tuition fees for every new undergraduate course. Each year. Unlimited.
Once the tuition fees increase for an incoming class, they would stay the same for that class for six years – allowing students to more reliably calculate the multi-year cost of a degree.
The UC Board of Regents will vote on Thursday on a two-year study plan in the works that was originally derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic but has since been revived.
UC officials estimate that state tuition and system-wide fees would increase by $ 534 in 2022-23, and a slightly lower amount for each subsequent incoming class of undergraduate students.
The result is that in 2026-27, California students entering UC are expected to owe $ 15,078 in annual tuition and statewide fees – about $ 2,500 more than what state students are now paying.
The proposal is complex, riddled with estimates of tuition increases linked to inflation, and riddled with various exceptions designed to limit student debt. What is certain, however, is that this represents a dramatic upheaval for UC: after doubling tuition fees during the Great Recession in response to deep government cuts, it only increased tuition fees once since 2011.
“I think (the tuition increase is) likely, even if I don’t want to,” said Alexis Atsilvsgi Zaragoza, a UC Berkeley student and a voting member of the Regents who will be casting their first vote at this meeting week.
Your disagreement has powerful allies. Congregation spokesman Anthony Rendon, a Long Beach Democrat, and Senate President Pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins, the two legislative leaders, are currently opposed to the tuition increases, CalMatters emailed them.
“Families are struggling during this pandemic, and this year has been difficult enough for so many Californians,” said Atkins, a San Diego Democrat.
UC President Michael V. Drake declined to be interviewed for this story. Speaking at the Regents’ meeting in May, Drake said the curriculum would “help the campus maintain academic excellence and critical support services.
“It’s no secret that UC’s funding has been unstable for years.”
His office argues that the UC needs stable tuition income to counter the long trend of government divestments. The system received about 80% of its student education funding from government subsidies four decades ago. Today this share has shrunk to almost 40%, almost identical to the income the system generates from tuition fees. This year’s massive inflow of government funds into the UC is doing little to reverse this trend.
The UC President’s office predicts rising costs totaling $ 2.1 billion through 2026-27 on top of ongoing expenses. The new additional revenue would be used to increase faculty recruitment, pay and benefits, and a range of student support services and programs to increase graduation rates.
And the UC claims that the proposed study model will ultimately be better for all students.
Low-income students who do not pay tuition fees anyway because they are eligible for financial support would get even more money for books, accommodation, and food, as around 36% of the income from the tuition fee increases would go back to student grants.
And since tuition fees increase only once per graduating class and are tied to inflation, the cost of attendance will be predictable and stable for higher-income students who pay the full freight.
Special features of the proposed increase in tuition fees
The proposed plan would increase tuition fees for each new incoming undergraduate class of students from 2022-23. Any increase in tuition fees would be linked to inflation. Undergraduate students would also pay a 2% or less surcharge that would expire within a few years.
New and ongoing students in government-funded graduate programs would experience a different kind of tuition increase: their tuition fees would be annually rather than once for each new class, and grow with inflation from 2022-23.
The proposal links tuition fee growth to a three-year moving average of inflation. This prevents the tuition fees from changing drastically when consumer prices rise.
The proposed increase would limit study growth to 6% each year. Another provision would increase tuition fees by a smaller amount if state lawmakers increase their share of the UC budget by more than 5%. But this kind of increase is rare: government support to UC has increased less than 4.6% per year after hitting 5% in 2014-15.
Zaragoza, the student regent, says a 6% cap is still too high; it will push for a lower threshold. She would like some trigger language in the Regents’ proposal that would force the UC to suspend tuition fees in extreme cases such as a global pandemic. And she wants the regents to renew the plan regularly – at least once a decade.
“We’re using the message of ‘eternal wandering,'” said Josh Lewis, an aspiring senior at Berkeley and chairman of government relations for the UC Student Association. The system-wide student group rejects any increase in tuition fees and organizes a phalanx of students to protest the proposed walks at this week’s Regents meeting. The association also files comments on all of the UC campus student papers and has met with regents.
Lewis said he wanted the state to step up its support for the UC in lieu of tuition increases.
And the regents themselves are not united in support. Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who serves as regent, tweeted her opposition, noting that tuition fees at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business have skyrocketed since she attended in the 1990s.
But at least one influential lawmaker is happy with the UC plan. Kevin McCarty, a Democrat from Sacramento and chairman of the Education Budget Subcommittee, said at a February hearing that “moderate and predictable” tuition increases, as the regents deem it “makes sense”.
There is at least one kink in UC’s revenue-generating arguments. California law gives the governor’s finance director the power to cut state funds for the UC (and California State University) if the university charges tuition. That’s because every increase in tuition fees means the state budget spends more on the Cal Grant, the state’s top tuition grant – something that one-third of UC students receive and that is automatically tied to the UC’s tuition fees.
Most students don’t actually pay
Currently, 56% of California students at UC do not pay tuition fees due to a combination of state, state, and college support.
This does not change anything in the proposed UC study model. The UC calculates that with this increase, students who do not live in wealthier households will ultimately owe less of the total college bill than if tuition fees remained unchanged. This paradox is due to the fact that the UC plans to spend more than a third of the increased study receipts on student funding. That money plus state and federal grants will result in savings of nearly $ 2,000 per year through 2028-29 for students whose parents earn $ 120,000 or less.
Despite all this financial aid, students in need still fall through the cracks. There are students who live on cars and vans. A 2020 UC report found that 6% of students who receive federal grants are still homeless.
For families with an income of $ 150.00, UC’s tuition increase plan would result in additional tuition costs, rising to approximately $ 2,000 for students by 2028-29. These costs will only increase for wealthier families who do not qualify for the state’s middle-class scholarship.
The proposed tuition hike is basically “a progressive tax,” said UC government Cecilia Estolano, now chair of the panel, who said she was undecided on the proposal at the May meeting.
“You will bill wealthier people a little more, but in return you will make a promise to them: Everyone will have the faculty and staff quota they expect from the University of California.”