Even though they did not vote on dueling proposals to increase tuition, the University of California’s Board of Regents on Jan. 22 showed deep divisions on the matter and whether tuition should be hiked at all.
Some said they oppose both proposals, under which undergraduates who are California residents could see increases ranging from $348 to $606 next fall with additional hikes over each of the next four years. That would come on top of the current $12,570 for mandatory tuition and university-wide fees, not including housing and other costs.
Other regents expressed preferences for one plan or the other, but a majority opinion was not apparent.
The increases would fall largely to higher-income students since low-income students and some middle-income ones would see a boost in their financial aid to cover the higher tuition, administrators say.
The governing board of the 10-campus system originally had been scheduled to vote this week on the two models or to keep tuition flat. But they heard opposition from two important constituencies: Gov. Gavin Newsom voiced strong opposition and student leaders protested that they had not been given enough advance notice required under state law. It was just the day before the meeting that the regents decided to hold off on any vote.
The regents now are expected to vote on the proposals in coming months although no firm date was set. Their next regular meeting is in March.
Some regents are worried about the effect on middle-income students who don’t receive full tuition grants. Those regents who were critical of any tuition increase suggested that the university instead reduce its spending and seek more state funding than Newsom offered in his recent budget.
Lt. Gov Eleni Kounalakis, who is a regent, said the university has to get its own spending under control rather than turn to students for more cash. “Frankly there are times that spending decisions are made as if money is no object,” she said at the meeting held in San Francisco. Citing what she described as “an affordability crisis,” Kounalakis said many students already have a difficult time paying for tuition and living costs even with financial aid.
Other regents, however, said they fear there may be no alternative to higher tuition if the Legislature does not significantly increase funding beyond the 5 percent, or $217.7 million, raise proposed by Newsom to what would total about $4 billion in state support. Without the necessary funds, UC campuses will see more overcrowded classes and possible cutbacks in programs, they warned.
“Maybe a miracle will happen,” regent George Kieffer said, referring to the wishes for markedly boosted state funding. But if the state does not provide enough, he suggested he reluctantly would favor the more traditional of the two models of tuition increases presented to the regents by the system’s administrators.
That plan would affect all UC undergraduates enrolled now and in coming years by the same amounts. It is designed to begin with a $348 increase next year and continue with additional raises each year through 2024 based on the California Consumer Price Index. Kieffer and others favor that plan, as long as it has a cap, since it calls for smaller annual increases.
In contrast, regents chairman John A. Pérez said that he supports the rival proposal if tuition does have to be raised. That so-called cohort model would affect only incoming classes — at various rates. Each class’s tuition then would hold at the same amount throughout their times at school. It is something never embraced before by California’s public universities and colleges although some other states have tried it.
Pérez, who is former speaker of the state Assembly, said the plan would provide more predictability and peace of mind for families. “You know what your costs are the entire time you are here,” he explained.
The cohort proposal calls for a $606, or 4.8 percent, increase for freshmen starting in fall 2020. Each subsequent class would face hikes estimated to be from 3.3 percent to 4.8 percent based on a formula using inflation and other measures.
UC administrators say that a third of all new tuition revenues will be dedicated to financial aid for low- and middle-income students and that many students would not be affected by the tuition hikes. In fact, many students may actually see a $140 decrease in costs after UC aid and higher Cal Grants and other scholarships kick in, they said.
Regent Sherry Lansing said she had concerns about a tuition increase’s effect on middle-income students who may not be eligible for aid or enough aid. “I really, really worry about the middle class,” she said, adding that she wanted more information from UC administrators about how the two proposals would affect students at various income levels.
Student leaders already have expressed their opposition to both plans. Besides harming current students, tuition increases might scare away applicants who might not understand that their aid would cover the hikes, they said.