Vote on tuition hike for UC put on hold after Regents receive fierce backlash

Vote on tuition hike for UC put on hold after Regents receive fierce backlash

Photo Credits: Justin Han / Aggie. Chalk writing that opposes the proposed tuition increase at schools of the University of California system were found on Wellman Hall on the morning of Tuesday, January 21, 2020.

Students alerted only a week prior to planned vote

In a plan to provide more financial aid funding and avoid a decline in the quality of UC education, the UC Board of Regents proposed two different tuition increase models. After backlash from students, the vote on the tuition proposals was postponed.

The Regents, who met on Jan. 22 to discuss the two proposals, were faced with backlash from students worried about the extra financial strain that students might face because of a tuition increase. They argued that an increase would hurt individuals already attending the UC, and said it would also impact the diversity of the UC system — one of its six key values.

Students were also given only one week of notice prior to the scheduled vote, although Regents are required to give a month’s notice. Before a vote could happen, the potential tuition increase was switched to a discussion item. It is currently unknown when or if this item will be put to a vote. 

Two tuition increase models are being considered. The first, a traditional yearly increase, would adjust tuition cost with inflation and would apply to all students — current and future. The second model, called “cohort-based” tuition, assigns a fixed cost for each incoming class. This model would only affect future students. 

Although it is not abnormal for the Regents to consider a tuition increase at the beginning of the year when the governor releases the budget for the next fiscal year, this situation felt abnormal to UC Student Association President Varsha Sarveshar.

“Normally, when [the Regents] vote on tuition increases, they’re only voting on tuition increases for the next academic year,” Sarveshar said. “This time, they’re voting on tuition increases between [the] 2020-21 school year and 2024-25 school year.”

Sarveshwar also said that the inflation-based tuition increase model would likely create an increase between 10% and 15%, or a $14,860 to $15,535 final price tag over five years for in-state students. The current tuition is approximately $13,509.

“We do not take changes to tuition and fees lightly,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “And while it may seem counterintuitive, increasing tuition actually provides more funds to cover the cost of attendance who need financial aid the most.”

who need financial aid the most.”

But these numbers can’t be taken at face value, since student loan debt is often left out of the equation. 

“When you propose tuition increases by one or two or three or 400 dollars, that isn’t really the amount that the tuition is going up by,” explained ASUCD Chief of Staff Adam Hatefi. “[It] is that amount plus 20 years of interest on the loans that the students are going to have to take out to pay for that hike that you just proposed.”

Furthermore, even though more aid may be given to those who need it most, there is some concern that any tuition increase would deter potential applicants.

“There are far, far too many California high school students who, due to a lack of privilege and a lack of institutional knowledge, don’t know that their education may be supported by financial aid, and may not apply [to a UC] due to sticker shock alone,” Sarveshwar said.

Students from almost all of the UC campuses, many of whom just returned from Winter Break or are preparing for midterms, attended the mid-week Regents meeting with the hopes of having their voices heard by the Regents. The Regents met at the UC San Francisco Mission Bay campus — notably the only UC that does not enroll undergraduates.

Students highlighted the impact a tuition increase would have on them, their families and their peers at the UC.

“I’m a first-generation college student and a proud child of immigrants who came to America for a better life,” said Kimberly Giantran, a second-year student at UC San Diego. “My parents are living their dreams through me. I can’t let them down and let all of their sacrifices go to waste. Look at me. Look at the students standing with me and behind me. Our livelihoods are on the line.”

Look at me. Look at the students standing with me and behind me. Our livelihoods are on the line.”

In addition to affecting current UC students, concerns were voiced about what a tuition increase would do to diversity within the UC system. 

“For the past eight years, tuition has remained constant and stable for California residents and class diversity of residents has multiplied, seeing more Black students, Latinx students, queer students, trans students, that which makes our environment and education rich and full,” UCLA student Sofia Hsu said.

So what’s the reasoning behind the proposed tuition hike? According to the discussion item summary written by the UC Office of the President (UCOP) intended for the Board of Regents, the tuition increase is needed to supplement the $3.996 billion in State General Fund provided in the Governor’s State budget proposal for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

“The University’s budget request to the State, if fully funded, would have avoided the need for a [tuition] increase,” said a representative in an email. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom contradicts this notion. 

“Given the major increase in higher education funding provided in last year’s budget and the similar increase proposed by Governor Newsom for next year’s budget, he believes that the proposed tuition increase is unwarranted, bad for students and inconsistent with our college affordability goals,” said spokesperson Jesse Melgar in a statement.

The long-term impacts were not fully considered, according to one student.

“The proposals that were originally on the table today were nothing but shortsighted ways for the university to make up projected deficits in which the state, our ultimate benefactor, should be on the hook for,” said David Hickman, a UC San Diego fourth-year. 

According to UCOP, the added tuition money would go toward the making and sustaining of “all of the mandatory and high-priority investments included in the

2020-21 Budget Plan for Current Operations approved by the Regents in November 2019.”

Some of these “high-priority” investments include the elimination of achievement gaps, increasing graduation rates, increasing enrollment, the expansion of student access to mental health services and increasing faculty compensation.

Some, however, question whether the added tuition would really go toward these goals.

“The top 35 UC employees with the highest gross pay in 2016 are all men, 29 of which were prominent doctors at UC hospitals, four of which were coaches, or former coaches, of men’s football and basketball teams,” said ASUCD External Affairs Commission Chair Shelby Salyer. “Their state-reported pay ranged from $1.1 million to $3.6 million a year.”

Sayler explained how these numbers stand in stark contrast to the countless students at UC Davis who, due to the transition to UCPath, are allegedly still awaiting pay from Fall Quarter or to the union workers at UC Davis who are still bargaining in order to make salaries that can support their basic needs, or even professors, who had the lowest salaries out of all the UCs in 2015.

During the Regents meeting, Chair John Perez said, “I have never and will never vote for a broad-based tuition increase that impacts current students. I have said that in our effort to have predictable and affordable tuition that I’m open to conversations around cohort-based tuition, which have clear guarantees of no increases into the future for students that are affected.” 

Sayler disagrees that the cohort model is better than the inflation-based one.

“It feels like they are trying to divide that collective bargaining block that is students together,” Sayler said. 

The result is an unbounded increase in tuition.

“If these five year increases are passed at a later meeting, and I then ask students to advocate for the budget, I worry that their response will be simple: What is the point if they’re raising tuition anyway?” Sarveshwar asked at the Regents meeting.

“If these five year increases are passed at a later meeting, and I then ask students to advocate for the budget, I worry that their response will be simple: What is the point if they’re raising tuition anyway?” Sarveshwar asked at the Regents meeting.

Written by: Jessica Baggott — campus@theaggie.org