UC raises tuition despite student outcry, touting more financial aid and budget stability
University of California regents OK’d a tuition hike for incoming undergraduates starting in fall 2022, one critics say will hurt vulnerable students. The 4.2% increase in tuition and fees will apply only to incoming undergraduates next year and stay flat for up to six years for them.
The University of California will raise tuition beginning in fall 2022 after the board of regents approved the increase Thursday following prolonged debate and widespread student protests.
The 4.2% increase in tuition and fees — $534 added to the current annual level of $12,570 — will apply only to incoming undergraduates next year and stay flat for up to six years for them. Successive undergraduate classes would get a similar deal — one increase tied to inflation in their incoming year with tuition frozen for six years.
The undergraduate tuition increase includes a 2% surcharge for the incoming class next year, declining for subsequent classes until it is phased out by 2026. Graduate student tuition would be adjusted annually by the rate of inflation.
The plan aims to bring financial predictability to families, help struggling campuses maintain educational standards and make a UC education more affordable for many low-income students by raising more revenue for financial aid, UC President Michael V. Drake said. He oversaw a similar tuition plan at Ohio State University before taking the reins at UC last year and said it had increased financial aid, lowered student debt levels and increased student diversity.
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The regents’ action marked UC’s second tuition increase since 2011 and came after two years of discussion. It was set for a vote last July but shelved with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Drake told regents Thursday that the financial squeeze on campuses over the past several years has resulted in negative fallouts on students — more crowded classrooms and dorms, less interaction with faculty and more difficulty in accessing courses needed to graduate.
“This is not sustainable, and it is not acceptable,” he said. “This plan proposes a much more stable and secure way forward for students and for the university.”
Opponents of the plan, however, have sharply questioned raising tuition amid a pandemic that has upended financial stability for so many families and after Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature provided the university system with $1.27 billion, the largest ever single-year infusion of state funding, for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
The UC Student Association and several other campus organizations lobbied against the increase, using a #stoptheforeverhike social media campaign. They argued that the plan would hurt students who fall through the cracks — LGBTQ students whose parents refuse to pay college costs, immigrants here without legal authorization who don’t qualify for in-state tuition and low-income nonresident students hit by fluctuating exchange rates and limited financial aid access.
Students who spoke out against the tuition plan during the public comment period Thursday also said it would increase financial burdens on those who already struggle to personally pay the $10,000 UC expects them to contribute to their education and reduce racial and economic diversity.
“Even as the university admits its most diverse class ever, it is making itself less accessible by balancing its budget on the backs of those least able to afford it,” said Rafael Jaime, president of UAW Local 2865, which represents 19,000 academic student employees.
They won over Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, an ex-officio regent. “The cost of public higher ed is too high & increasing tuition is NOT the answer,” she tweeted last week. “I stand w/students against the proposed tuition increases.”
But several regents who expressed skepticism when the issue was discussed in May voted for the plan after UC officials tweaked it to address their concerns. Regent Eloy Ortiz Oakley, for instance, had fretted that tying tuition increases to the rate of inflation could result in steep new charges if consumer prices soar. But the final plan will calculate inflation at a three-year rolling average of the California Consumer Prize Index and cap any increase at 5%.
Regents retain the ability to revise student charges for any reason at their discretion and will be required to reauthorize the plan in five years under an amendment by Student Regent Alexis Atsilvsgi Zaragoza, who voted against the increase along with Kounalakis, Regent Laphonza Butler and ex-offico regents, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.
Board Chair Cecilia Estolano also evolved from what she had called her initial “super skeptical” position to support, noting that more financial aid revenue generated by the plan could help lower the debt burden on students. She also has said that the tuition plan amounted to a progressive tax, which would be a fair way to raise money for the additional faculty, staff, mental health counselors and other support that students need.
“You can’t buy excellence on the cheap,” she said Thursday.
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More than half of UC undergraduates would not be affected by the increase, since their tuition and fees are covered by financial aid. UC officials say more than 106,000 California undergraduates would receive more grant aid under the plan, giving them additional funding for housing, food, books and other nontuition expenses. That’s because 45% of the new tuition revenue would go toward financial aid for California students.
Over the past two decades, UC officials said, the system’s core funds have increased by 9% while enrollment has grown by 71%, resulting in a 36% drop in per-student funding.
That financial squeeze prompted the majority of campus chancellors to call for a tuition increase last year as they slashed budgets, dug into reserves, borrowed funds and substantially halted hiring to address what they called one of the worst financial crises they’ve ever collectively faced, fueled by the pandemic.
UC Berkeley, for instance, is particularly dependent on tuition, since it has no medical center to generate additional revenue. The campus has been hit by two successive budget holes amounting to $150 million in 2016, then $340 million last year after the pandemic led to crushing losses and higher costs.
At UCLA, student-faculty ratios have increased from 25:1 in 2003-04 to 29:1 in 2019-20. And UC Riverside, like the other campuses, has struggled with inadequate student services and facilities in deep disrepair — falling ceiling tiles, leaking roofs, antiquated air systems and lab equipment breakdowns.
The tuition revenue, UC officials said, will help pay for needed repairs and maintenance, reduce class sizes, boost student instruction, enhance student services and provide more support to improve graduation rates and reduce achievement gaps.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.