By Katy Murphy and Jessica Calefati Staff writers
SACRAMENTO — Barely two weeks have passed since the University of California announced it would raise tuition unless it got the state money it needed, and already — even as state lawmakers protested that it amounted to hostage-taking — two high-level counterproposals have emerged to stop those fee hikes from happening.
The latest surfaced Tuesday in the state Senate — a cash infusion to bring more students, more classes and higher graduation rates to California’s public universities, and to cancel the tuition increases that have students protesting throughout the state.
Another plan to coax UC to drop the fee hike in exchange for more money came earlier from Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, who also serves on the governing boards of UC and CSU.
The story is far from over. Gov. Jerry Brown — who imposed a tuition freeze two years ago and just this fall vetoed a higher-education funding bill sponsored by Atkins — must get on board. But it’s clear that the university’s move drew an outpouring of opposition to any tuition increase — and that the state, which is projecting a giant budget surplus next year, now has both money and motive to meet UC’s demands.
“Did they tip the scales in terms of forcing us to push the conversation harder than we might have?” asked Atkins. “Absolutely, because we don’t want to see a tuition increase.”
UC’s proposal to raise student fees by up to 5 percent each year through 2019 came from the office of the president, Janet Napolitano, a former Arizona governor and Homeland Security chief hired last year, in part, for her political savvy and stature.
Napolitano argued that the plan would bring stability to the university and stressed that students would see no change in their tuition bill next year if the state came up with an extra $100 million.
So far, the debate has not been over whether the state should furnish the extra cash, but over how much and with what conditions.
“We no longer want our students to be ATMs for universities when they need extra money,” said state Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 15.
But for a university system used to a great deal of autonomy, this is not money without strings. State lawmakers have specified where much of it would flow — and not to UC’s pension fund, a major source of its financial strain.
And Atkins this week proposed public hearings to scrutinize UC’s budget, line by line, to make sure the university’s spending matches its public mission.
When UC says it needs money so badly that it must raise student tuition, Atkins said, the state has to ask, “Have you really prioritized (the budget) in the way we think it should be prioritized?”
The Senate offer would give UC and California State University $75 million each in additional state dollars for more courses and advising, as well as funding to immediately expand enrollment in both university systems. CSU would get money for a grant program to reward CSU students who are on track to graduate in four years.
More than 29,000 low-income students attending private colleges would also benefit from the Senate bill, which would repeal a scheduled 11 percent cut in their tuition-grant awards next year.
Napolitano herself called the proposal a “promising first step.”
“I welcome and applaud the Senate Democrats’ interest in maintaining the excellence, access and affordability of California’s system of public higher education,” she wrote in a statement. “State funding should be adequate to ensure that UC remains the best public university in the world and that tuition is as low and predictable as possible.”
The whole package would cost $342 million next year, but less than half of it — $156 million — would come from the state general fund, say the bill’s sponsors, Block and President Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles.
The rest would flow from the pockets of out-of-state UC students — who would be charged an extra 17 percent, or $4,000 each, next year, generating $82 million — and from a scholarship fund established just last year to help middle-income CSU and UC students.
Atkins’ proposal calls for an even steeper out-of-state tuition hike, $5,000.
UC student leaders have mixed feelings about the proposal, “especially about the 17 percent tuition increase for out-of-state students,” said Jefferson Kuoch-Seng, president of UC Student Association. “Out-of-state tuition is already a lot.”
California students pay about $12,200 per year in mandatory UC fees, while those from out-of-state pay more than $35,000.
About half of UC’s in-state students have their tuition costs fully covered through a combination of state, federal and institutional grants. And that’s why abolishing the Middle Class Scholarship Program to pay for the plan is likely to be a tough sell. That scholarship program sailed through the Legislature last year as lawmakers noted that middle-income students — many of whom don’t qualify for other forms of aid — were hit hard by the steep tuition increases of the Great Recession.
But one champion of the scholarship — former Assembly Speaker John Perez, a newly appointed UC regent — said he is confident it will remain intact.
“I believe that there’s a way to preserve the Middle Class Scholarship as intended and also to address the other issues of affordability,” he said. “I think this is just a conversation starter.”
But neither of the competing proposals would have legs if state finance officials weren’t projecting a surplus of more than $2 billion for the next fiscal year, said Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State.
“The real catalyst for all of these plans is not a sense of urgency. It’s the money,” Gerston said. “It’s amazing how easily policy gets done when there’s extra money lying around.”
Follow Katy Murphy at Twitter.com/katymurphy.
TWO TUITION PLANS Assembly and Senate plans would avert UC tuition increases but increase oversight of independent University of California
• Cancel UC fee hikes,
• Increase UC and CSU funding by $150 million each. UC would get $50 million from state, $100 million from charging out-of-state students extra $5,000,
• Expand in-state undergraduate enrollment at UC by 2,000 students per year for five years,
• Cap out-of-state enrollment at current level,
• Accelerate state’s Middle Class Scholarship plan, and
• Eliminate UC’s 5 percent tuition hike next year. Senate Bill 15
• Eliminate 5 percent UC tuition hike,
• Repeal 11 percent cut in Cal Grants for private colleges, add 7,500 Cal Grants for older, nontraditional students,
• Give $75 million each to UC and CSU to offer more classes, more student support services,
• Grant up to $4,500 to CSU students who progress toward graduation within 4-years,
• Increase UC enrollment by 5,000 and CSU enrollment by 10,500 in the 2015-16 academic year, and
• Help fund the plan by phasing out the Middle Class Scholarship Program.
[Source]: Contra Costa Times