Here’s why UC Davis tuition is unlikely to change for Spring Quarter

Here’s why UC Davis tuition is unlikely to change for Spring Quarter

Photo Credits: Quinn Spooner / Aggie File. Mrak Hall at UC Davis.

Spring Quarter tuition likely to remain the same, university offering paid administrative leave

Spring Quarter tuition will likely remain unchanged amid the COVID-19 crisis, despite demands from students that the university reduce tuition and fees. 

Tuition at UC Davis is used to pay the salaries of students and educators, but it also funds a vast host of payments that the university must make, including building maintenance, upkeep, utilities and debt services. 

With the suspended operation of the UC Davis campus, some students and parents feel that there should be a tuition reimbursement in exchange for services not being rendered — such as the currently closed ARC, which is supported by student fees.

The UC Office of the President (UCOP) said that, as of now, tuition will not be reevaluated. Students are still pursuing degrees, and this, UCOP said, is justification enough to maintain tuition. 

“Students are generally able to access all required instructional materials, complete their coursework, and make timely progress towards their degree,” said Sarah McBride, a media and communications strategist with the UCOP, via email. 

McBride also said students will continue to earn full credit for their coursework, and mandatory charges such as Tuition and the Student Services Fee will proceed to help cover delivery of instruction, other educational costs and the cost of student services such as registration, financial aid and remote academic advising. 

“The University has not changed its policies or practices related to refunds for these charges,” she said, reiterating Paul Jenny’s statements from the UC Regents’ March 20 meeting. Jenny is interim executive vice president and chief financial officer for the UC.

This, however, does not exclude the possibility of individual campuses within the UC evaluating refunds for other costs. Across the UC, petitions have sprung up demanding campuses reduce tuition — including one change.org petition demanding that UC Davis reduce Spring Quarter tuition.

Ehab Muhammad, a third-year chemical engineering major at UC Davis, is responsible for the change.org petition

“Why am I being held responsible for fees or services that I will not be using, and that I cannot use because of the shelter in place order?” Muhammad asked. 

Muhammad pointed out that, in accordance with Regents policy 3101, many of the fees outlined in the UC Davis financial statement go to social, recreational and cultural activities and programs — programs that the university cannot host this quarter due to the extenuating circumstances of late. The Regents policy is not a contractual obligation. 

UC Davis Vice Chancellor of Finance, Operations and Administration Kelly Ratliff said the campus is in “suspended operation,” not closed. 

“For the units I’m responsible for, the vast majority are still open or providing services — some remotely, some on campus,” Ratliff said. “Many faculty are still coming in and recording their lectures and we’re still opening every day, […] which means we’re still servicing those buildings, providing custodial support, doing tech support, and so that involves not just my organization, but IET and others.”

Another cost to the university is debt services. 

“For most of [the buildings], we still have ongoing costs,” Ratliff said. “We finance those buildings much like a mortgage — even if I’m on vacation or whatnot, I still have to pay the mortgage.” 

Although the campus is in suspended operation, all support staff and professors still need to be paid. 

“Our operating budget is mostly people,” Ratliff said. “The vast majority of our budget is about compensation for the faculty and staff at the university — and all those folks are still here and engaged in both instruction and research.” 

Some, like Muhammad, contest the value of remote instruction and say that it is not comparable to in-person lectures. 

“I’m writing lab reports on data that I never collected, based on equipment that I never used,” Muhammed said. “I will probably never be able to get any experience on that equipment in an academic setting, and that’s very disappointing.” 

Muhammad said online instruction is not as valuable as in-person instruction and therefore students should be compensated for this. 

“At the end of the day, we’re students, and our success is important,” he said. 

Paid administrative leave

As Ratliff said, most of the operating budget goes directly to faculty and staff. Given suspended operations across the UC, UCOP issued an executive order giving employees, including students, a one-time allotment of 128 hours of paid administrative leave. However, because 128 hours only amounts to 16 work days, the school continues to work on ways to compensate those who cannot work remotely. 

“What comes next after paid administrative leave is actually the most urgent thing that’s being worked on, and there’s conversation with the president and the university and the chancellors about what to do next,” Ratliff said. “What we will do as a university for these sorts of issues […] will be a university-wide response. We really are waiting for some guidance from the Office of the President about what comes next.”

All of this comes amid an announcement from UC President Janet Napolitano that “there will be no COVID-19 related layoffs for all career employees through the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2020.” The announcement does not detail how individual campuses will achieve this.

According to the Twitter account for the University Council-American Federation of Teachers at UCLA, however, “the commitment to no layoffs through June 30th does not apply to academic appointees, meaning that contingent teaching faculty and librarians are not protected by the policy.” UC-AFT, the union that represents UC librarians and non-Senate faculty, said via Twitter that it is currently looking to change that: “The contingent faculty who are lifting heaven and earth to keep teaching our students now must be reappointed after the crisis is over.”

Meanwhile, UC Davis is taking steps to avoid a financial crisis.

“We’re going to implement what we’re going to call a ‘vacancy management program,’” Ratliff said. “Both for student employees and staff employees, we’re looking for opportunities to redeploy people. But, the other thing is, just because of the financial uncertainty and the extra cost we’re experiencing because of the crisis, we need to slow down hiring.” 

The administration is making more stringent guidelines for the hiring process, sending potential positions through several committees before the opening is posted. 

“Any position that needs to go forward for recruitment has to be signed off on by the dean, vice chancellor or vice provost,” Ratliff said. “Then we’re going to have a separate central review committee to have one more level of review on those positions before they can be posted.”

Cost Breakdown: Utilities Savings

Under suspended operation, Ratliff said via email it is reasonable to assume that the UC Davis campus utility savings will be “about $200,000 per month.” 

This is not an exact number, Ratliff said, because the school has never experienced closures for this anticipated length of time in recent history. The estimate is based on savings experienced during the first two weeks of suspended operation. This amounts to a savings of about 10% of the utility budget ($2-2.5M per month). 

“Energy savings are not proportional to the decrease in population because our largest energy users on campus are the lab and animal spaces, which have to remain ventilated and conditioned 24/7 for safety purposes regardless of how many people are there,” she explained. 

Cost Breakdown: Expenditures of Online Transition

The other principal cost of this crisis is the transition to online instruction. According to Ratliff, the Information and Educational Technology department is “reporting almost $800,000 in additional expenses.” 

This comes from Zoom licenses, VPNs, laptops for students and faculty and other sources. In the haste of this transition, the university still has not been able to fully assess the cost of transitioning to remote instruction and suspending campus operations. 

“We are in the process of collecting additional expenses across the campus, but that data is not ready yet,” Ratliff said. 

Therefore, the exact number that students could expect to receive should the university take the unlikely step to provide refunds is unknown. When asked again for a more precise cost via email, Ratliff said it is “too soon” to make any determinations. 

Other Expenses

With the continuation of administrative leave or a comparable substitute to the end of the fiscal year, the cost of salary is not yet known or calculable. The UC Davis FOA office is currently working with the chancellor and UCOP to resolve this issue.

Ratliff said the administration is “in the process of collecting data about extra costs.”

It is unlikely that the university, in its transition to online instruction and fulfillment of UCOP guidance, will provide tuition refunds to graduate and undergraduate students. 

“If there are questions […] those prompts would be appreciated,” Ratliff said. “There are impacts all over the place, and there’s a lot of fear. This is having a big impact. Whatever we can do to communicate in a way that conveys more [information], I would love to get there.” 

Following Vice Chancellor Ratliff’s interview with The Aggie, the UC Davis COVID-19 FAQ for Students has been updated to reflect some of the additional information provided here. 

Written by: Alex Weinstein — campus@theaggie.org