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Showdown looms over tuition hike

The UC Board of Regents’ decision to increase tuition over the next five years brought a swift – and negative – reaction from Sacramento, signaling a fiscal showdown when the state budget is unveiled in January.

“To UC students and their families, please know that the fight over this nearly 28% fee increase is not over,” Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, said in a prepared statement released minutes after Thursday’s vote. Atkins is an ex-officio member of the Regents.

The approved plan would increase the average yearly cost of tuition at the 10-campus UC system by $612 – to $12,804 – next fall. By fall 2019, tuition could increase to as much as $15,564 annually

Gov. Jerry Brown, who appeared before the Regents earlier to argue against the tuition increase, did not say what he would do in response to the board’s decision. His office said only that the “next steps will be outlined in the budget the Governor introduces in January.”

The nature of those steps was uncertain. Earlier, a Brown spokesman was quoted by the Chronicle’s Matier & Ross that “the governor has made it very clear that funding increases for UC are contingent on tuition remaining flat.”

Brown contends that the University of California has failed to curb spending. UC says the Brown administration has failed to adequately invest in the university, forcing it to raise money through a tuition hike.

The approved plan would increase the average yearly cost of tuition at the 10-campus UC system by $612 – to $12,804 – next fall. By fall 2019, tuition could increase to as much as $15,564 annually.

“Our mission is to educate people, not to make money. If there is a hard number that they need to make, then they should let us know what that requirement is.” — Rocky Chavez

In the final vote, which was 14-7, opposition was voiced by Atkins, Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, student regent Sadia Saifuddin and the governor’s two recent appointees to the board: former Assembly Speaker John Perez and Long Beach City College President Eloy Ortiz Oakley.

California’s chief lawmakers, the speaker and governor, had presented to the Regents earlier this week their own alternatives to implementing fee increases.

In return for no fee hikes, Atkins is proposing the state increase General Fund allocations to UC by $50 million, increase Cal Grants, maintain a requirement that UC maintain existing institutional aid to students, accelerate the Middle Class Scholarship program, double UC’s proposed increase to student enrollment, while capping out-of-state enrollees and increasing their tuition by $5,000.

The speaker’s plan also calls for the UC to adopt certain pension reforms and limit increases to executive’s pay.

Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, the vice chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, said serious negotiations were necessary.

“The number they set at five years is very arbitrary,” Chavez said. “Our mission is to educate people, not to make money. If there is a hard number that they need to make, then they should let us know what that requirement is.”

Separately, newly installed Senate Leader Kevin De Leon has called for a hike in tuition on nonresident students.

Gov. Brown wants the UC to establish a blue ribbon committee to reduce its cost structure, without limiting access and quality, through three-year degrees, more online course options, and other suggestions already made by the UC Commission on the Future.

But these suggestions to the Regents did not steer them away from voting yes on lifting student’s tuition.

“We don’t have time to wait for another commission,” UC President Janet Napolitano said at their Wednesday meeting. “We can have it and maybe we will get some really nifty ideas out of it, but the budget process moves along.”

Now that tuition freezes aren’t guaranteed, it’s unclear whether Brown will draw his own line on continuing the state’s incremental increases to the UC’s funding.

Despite also casting a losing vote, Speaker Atkins voiced confidence in potentially averting tuition hikes through up coming state budget negotiations.

“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,” Atkins said.

Whatever ultimately happens, it was clear that this week’s developments signaled a looming budget battle.

UC already faces a budget issue. Under Budget Committee legislation signed earlier by the governor, AB94, the university was supposed to submit by Oct. 1 details on its spending. It did not meet the deadline.

The governor’s call for a committee to examine the tuition issue and the Regents’ actions are setting the stage for stormy negotiations.

“A lot of people see this as just the start of negotiations,” said Bob Samuels of the 4,000 UC-AFT, the University Council-American Federation of Teachers.

The goal of UC is to “create a stable and predictable” revenue source, “but it is completely unstable and unpredictable because it is reliant on what the state does. It does not accomplish anything that it was intended to.”

Samuels’ group, which represents non-tenured faculty and librarians at UC’s 10 campuses, has opposed tuition increases.

“There should not be tuition fee increases,” he added, but the state “should be encouraged to increase funding for UC if UC can demonstrate it is using it for educational purposes,” he added.


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