Bill Would Cap Hikes For Student Fees

    Students could expect more predictable and perhaps smaller forms of fee hikes under a new bill passed by the California Assembly on Jan. 26.

    The legislation, introduced by Assemblywoman Carol Liu (D-Pasadena), would place several caps on annual student-fee hikes at public schools, including an 8-percent limit for undergraduate-fee increases in the UC system. Liu’s bill was passed by a 45-10 vote in the assembly, and was generally supported because of its prioritization of students, according to Liu spokeswoman Candice Chung.

    “The biggest problem has been that students haven’t been able to plan their college careers,” she said. “You have students having to drop out because of one year when fee increases go through the roof unexpectedly. [Students] should never have to worry about not knowing if they can afford college, year after year.”

    Traditionally, student fees have largely been based on the health of the state economy, according to Chung. Therefore, students attending college during an economic slump are automatically at a disadvantage, she said. When the economy is bad, the UC system is forced to increase fees in the place of less state funding, placing an unfair burden on students, Chung said.

    “There have been declines in enrollment when the economy declines, simply because parents and students can’t afford shouldering the burden of a bad economy,” she said.

    The bill bases predictability on the Consumer Price Index, which forecasts inflation and cost-of-living rates, according to Bruce Hamlett, chief consultant for the Assembly Education Committee that Liu chairs. The legislation’s strategy is dramatically different from the governor’s compact with the UC system, which also provides for a uniform fee hike of 8 percent over 10 years, he said. Although there could be an 8-percent fee increase for undergraduates in a “very bad” economic year, normal years will hold fee hikes to well under 5 percent because of the link to the consumer prices, Hamlett said.

    UC officials, however, have already voiced their displeasures about the proposal.

    “State revenues need to be there to run their institution,” Hamlett said. “They’ve testified before our committee that they want a guarantee that enough state revenue would be available to adequately fund their universities, should the economy go sour.”

    No guarantee from the Legislature has been made, and the bill would make funding issues harder, according to Chuck Nicol, a consultant to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

    “[P]articularly, the limiting of annual fee increases to no more than 8 percent may not be practicable,” he stated in an analysis of the bill. Although, under the bill, taxpayers would have to pay extra money during poor economic times to replace student fee hikes, the reward is far greater than the cost, Chung said. The state has already shown that it can handle the cost of its students, Chung said, referring to the governor’s $75 million buyout of UC student-fee increases.

    The governor vetoed a nearly identical bill in 2004 because it conflicted with his compact with the university, which was new at the time, Hamlett said.

    If passed, the bill would still act as informal agreement between the Legislature and the university without any binding enforcement mechanism, Hamlett said. If the system did choose to raise student fees above the 8-percent level, the Legislature would pressure officials to explain to the state why it deviated from the bill’s intent, he said.

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