The reading room at UC Berkeley's Doe Library. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Marquis/Flickr, via EdSource)

A radically new model of tuition increases, encompassing five hikes over the next five years, is set to be considered by the University of California Board of Regents next week. Officials say that more than half of UC’s undergraduates will be shielded from the extra costs because of automatic raises in financial aid.

The plan — called cohort tuition — would freeze tuition for students already at one of UC’s nine undergraduate campuses while raising it for the freshmen class entering in fall 2020 by $606, or 4.8 percent, to $13,176 for California residents. That new group would then have its tuition unchanged for up to six years. Then each subsequent entering class would see further increases of between 3.3 percent and 4.7 percent when they enter UC and have their own six-year freezes.

By the end of those proposed steps, estimated tuition and systemwide mandatory fees for California residents in the entering class of 2024 would be $15,414, not including housing, food and books, according to plan. The figures could change somewhat because they will be partly linked to inflation. Housing, food, books and other costs can be an extra $20,000 a year.

The UC regents are scheduled to vote March 19 on the plan, which faces strong opposition from students and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is a member of the regents board. However, university administrators say the governor’s plan to give UC a five percent, or $217.7 million, increase in state funding for next year is not enough to cover salaries, offer enough classes and pay for other escalating costs.

For many low-income students, financial aid will fully cover the tuition hikes and also provide some extra money for housing, food and books expenses, according to the regents agenda item. State-funded Cal Grants automatically rise to match tuition levels at the state’s public universities and campus aid programs are expected to grow as well. In most cases, only students from families with incomes of about $120,000 a year will feel the full pinch of higher tuition, officials said.

“The plan would also provide UC campuses with critical revenue to avoid the erosion in the quality of a UC education that would otherwise result if the University were to rely solely on available funding from the State and other sources, including the University’s own ongoing efforts to identify alternative revenue sources and further improve operational efficiency,” the item said.

UC administrators are embracing the so-called cohort model over a more traditional tuition plan that would have raised costs for all students by the same amounts every year for five years, depending on inflation. The cohort plan offered more predictability to students and families since their tuition would be set at the start and remain unchanged, supports say.

In January, regents postponed a vote on choosing a tuition plan, or dropping the idea altogether, after students protested that they had not been given proper notification.

The proposals under discussion would be the first UC tuition increase since 2017.  Before that, tuition had held flat for six years. UC administrators estimate the raise will produce $53 extra million in revenues next year after a third of the higher tuition payments are set aside for aid.

Students from other states and countries — who comprise nearly a fifth of UC’s 226,000 undergraduates — would see much higher costs than California residents under the proposal. For them, both the basic UC tuition and the supplemental charges for out-of-staters would go up. For those students, tuition and basic fees would be $44,370 in the fall and climb to $51,936 in 2024, with housing costs extra. Those non-Californians are not eligible for Cal Grants, although they can receive some UC and federal grants.

While proponents say cohort plans provide students and families more stability and predictability about education costs, critics note such plans have been difficult to administer at some universities who tried it in other states. They say a UC version could be very complication, causing confusion because of different tuition bill for every class.

Story originally published by EdSource.