State Senator Proposes 10-Percent Cap on Fee Hikes

The Student Protection Act SB 917 would cap any future student-fee hikes at 10 percent, as well as require University of California and California State University officials to provide an 180-day waiting period between the approval of tuition increases and the date on which students begin to pay the hike.

There is no such waiting period at this time; the 32-percent fee increase approved by the UC Board of Regents last November went into effect at the beginning of Winter Quarter.

According to Denham’s press secretary, Jan Taber, the senator introduced similar legislature in 2004, but it was not passed by the state senate. Denham was inspired to reintroduce the legislature in November after he heard the regents were planning to raise student fees by 32 percent.

“He thought it was ridiculous,” Taber said. “He decided to introduce legislation because he feels strongly that students and parents should have time to plan if there’s a fee increase and avoid large, unexpected increases midway through school.”

Tabor said Denham believes the recent increases are keeping students from graduating, or at least from graduating on time.

According to Leslie Sepuka, media specialist at the University of California Office of the President, UCOP is concerned that a student-fee cap could negatively impact the quality of a UC education.

“In the past, [the UC system] has been concerned that student-fee caps could threaten [the UC system’s] ability to preserve the quality of the institution,” Sepuka said.

For example, if the state were to cut the UC budget by another 20 percent — but the university was unable to raise fees by more than 10 percent — enrollment and courses may have to be reduced even more than they already have been.

Sepuka added that the timing of the state budget’s release would make it difficult for the university to provide a 180-day waiting period between a tuition increase and its implementation.

“We have regularly notified parents and students about the state budget situation and the likelihood of fee increases,” she said. “However, the timing of a state budget and funding decisions could prevent [the UC system] from keeping by a six-month deadline.”

In place of raising student fees, Denham suggested in his proposal that the UC system sell its off-campus properties; most notably, the Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station, located in French Tahiti and paid for by the university fees as well as from researchers using the space. “The UC system has millions worth of property, beautiful pieces of land” Taber said. “There’s a lot of waste, and the UC system should sell its property to offset the cost.”

Denham also suggested the University of California shut down the UC Institute for Mexico and the United States — or UC Mexus, a Riverside-based organization dedicated to doing studies on Mexico.

“They need to be serving the students in California first,” Taber said.

Sepuka said it is unlikely that either UC Mexus or the Gump Foundation would be closed down, as they are integral parts of the University of California. She said the Gump property is a large donation from businessman Richard Gump, who intended that the land be used for scientific research.

“[The foundation] is probably the best value per buck in the UC system, considering that almost all of the operating budget comes from user fees and external grants,” Sepuka said.“Plus, the station has brought in millions of dollars for research, including grants from the National Science Foundation and the Moore Foundation.”

The bill is scheduled for a hearing in March. It will need to be approved by a number of committees — including the Senate Committee on Education and the Senate Committee of Appropriations — before it goes before the state senate.

Readers can contact Angela Chen at [email protected]