Behind the UC Tuition Hikes

Students protesting fee hikes. Photo by Cory Wong
Students protesting fee hikes. Photo by Cory Wong
Students protesting fee hikes. Photo by Cory Wong
Students protesting fee hikes. Photo by Cory Wong

In light of the UC Board of Regents’ decision to raise tuition for five years, the UCSD Guardian breaks down what the tuition increases actually mean for the average student.

 Just when it felt like the dark age of perpetual tuition hikes and uncertainty was finally stalled for good, the University of California Office of the President swooped in and dropped a proposal to increase tuition up to 5 percent for the next five years. This means that tuition could cost as much as $612 more next year and $3,372 more by 2019. The UC Board of Regents, in a 14–7 vote, approved the proposal this past Thursday, ending the three-year tuition freeze that had only just begun to buffer the burden of ever-increasing debt for college students.

With various government and UC leaders pointing fingers at each other to take cuts to foster the essential budget increases, one can only imagine where the students — whom many voices are calling “hostages” in the situation — are being left under all of the crossfire.

For many, the future does not look bright. Optimism was gone from the speeches of several student leaders who urged against the proposal at the start of the UC Regents board meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Caitlin Quinn, External Affairs Vice President of UC Berkeley’s A.S. Council, chastised the board for giving students only two weeks to digest the possibility of tuition increase and to raise awareness until the board’s final vote. She added that A.S. representatives were “left out of the conversation” and, thus, unable to provide essential communication between their peers and UCOP.

“You all are probably going to say that students would never like a tuition increase,” Quinn said. “And while that’s probably true, we like being blindsided even less.”

Graduate students will also face several challenges due to the tuition increase: UC Berkeley’s Graduate Assembly External Vice President Iman Sylvain pointed out that graduate students do not receive the same financial aid as undergraduates and will have to continue taking out more student loans. Higher tuition will also increase the cost of teaching assistants — more so for those who lack California residency and pay non-residential supplemental tuition — so competition for TA positions will escalate while international graduate students could potentially be rendered too expensive to hire.

“This limits our diversity and our ability to hire and recruit the best and brightest scholars the world has to offer,” Sylvain said.

As for undergraduates, Louise Cabansay, Student Union Assembly External Vice Chair of UC Santa Cruz, expressed concerns over the growing number of students forced to drop out of school when finding they are unable to cover the full cost of quarterly fees. Those who do manage to find enough funds to make it to graduation are exiting the University of California with larger and larger amounts of debt.

While UC President Janet Napolitano’s tuition increase plan has brought anxiety to students, staff and government officials alike, there are some other issues that the plan does meet and address in the interest of students. For example, if tuition is not increased, the UC system would be tempted to allocate a higher number of prospective admission spots to out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition, instead of California residents to cover the budget gap. Napolitano assured in her opening remarks on Wednesday’s UC Regents meeting that this not the goal of the UC system, and by increasing tuition, she aspires to extend enrollment of native Californian students by at least 5,000 spots.

“This fall, applications to UC appear to be running at a record pace — again,” Napolitano said. “UC has long stood as a beacon of hope for young Californians. This plan ensures UC will stay that way.”

Other targets of the plan include expanding the variety and amount of coursework offered, hiring more faculty for smaller class sizes and reducing the amount of time needed to reach graduation. In terms of financial aid, Napolitano told the board that the proposal will allow the UC system to “continue our robust return-to-aid policy” by ensuring that one-third of tuition dollars be given back to students as aid money.

“This plan will allow UC to continue its national leadership on financial aid,” Napolitano said. “At a university where 42 percent of our more than 180,000 undergraduates come from low-income families, further strengthening our vigorous financial aid program is paramount.”

Despite its promises, the tuition increase is still being met with opposition from not only students but also government officials, as Gov. Jerry Brown was one of several regents to vote against the plan. Brown has advocated other strategies to bring down costs while improving the education experience for students, such as getting students to graduate in three years by offering a wide base of online classes and allowing students to receive academic credit for work and military experience.

“Let’s look at alternative pathways, alternative designs,” Brown said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “This is not Wall Street. This is University of California, and we ought to be different.”

The state had originally promised to increase funding for the UC system by 4 percent if tuition remained frozen at its current number, but after last week’s UC Regents vote, this is no longer the case. In January, the 2015–16 state budget should be proposed and only time will tell what sort of future will be carved out for students.

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