I fundamentally reject UC President Janet Napolitano’s proposal to increase tuition up to 5% for 5 years. Like countless other UC students, I know firsthand the burden such tuition increases can put on students. Having worked throughout college to support myself for much of my college career, I will still graduate with $62,984 in debt, the equivalent to a year’s salary of a well-paying job. At a time when Germany just declared its university system to be free, our education system is failing to invest in higher education, passing the burden onto us.
And yet, with the insistence that tuition increases are inevitable, we, as students, have still managed to gain ground. The proposal now includes a stability plan to prevent the tuition spikes that occur every few years, sometimes as high as 40%. The UC has set a goal to enroll 5,000 more California students, increase student support for services such as mental health, improve student-faculty ratio, and increase class availability to decrease the time to graduation. Given that 65% of UCR students do not graduate in 4 years, it would still be cheaper to graduate in 4 years even with the tuition increase than pay an additional year of tuition at current rates. However, I have serious questions as to how exactly and to what extent this would be accomplished.
The UC has also guaranteed to continue the “Blue and Gold Plan” and its financial aid program, which currently covers the full tuition of 55% of UC students (65% at UCR) and partially covers to another 14%. This, in essence, is a progressive taxation leaving a little less than a third of students who make up the middle to upper class to bear most of the burden. Except the problem is that it is being enacted on solely those who attend the UC, when the state and society as a whole benefits from an educated workforce.
While I agree that many of these services are badly needed and increase the quality of the UC, I fundamentally reject the notion that such benefits should come on backs of already debt-ridden college students. Instead of resorting to this tax system on its students, we need to go to the legislature and governor for the additional 5% increase for 5 years from state funding, as we were led to believe that higher education would receive sufficient funding from the passage of Proposition 30. The more we rely on a tuition-based system for sustainability, the more it implies our acceptance of the status quo, that it is “okay” for the state to not fund our university. We cannot move our ideals from what the UC was envisioned to be in the California Master Plan for Higher Education: a free public research university.
Currently, we are in a “monkey in the middle” situation between the UC and state. The state calls for the UC to enact cuts to increase efficiency, while the UC blames the decrease of state funding and rising costs as the cause of tuition increases. We can’t continue this blame game and diffusion of responsibility. In the end, it is the students who are losing out in the middle.
The UC claims that fundraising and enacted operational efficiencies have saved more than $664 million out of the $1 billion in state funding cuts. The UC not only needs to provide us with the data that proves its efficiency claims and necessary information about alternative proposals it considered, but it needs to make firm commitments to continue maximizing its cost efficiencies. Not having some of this information (in a timely manner) is inherently problematic and compromises our ability to make an informed decision as major stakeholders. Granted that salary increases of chancellors and the total salaries for top UC administrators account for less than 1% of its payroll, has the UC truly maximized all of its cost efficiencies? Only if it has, can the regents pass this plan to save us from cutting majors, reducing research, and lowering the quality of our education.
Meanwhile, the Governor and the state needs to better prioritize higher education in its budget. It is a fact that state funding has decreased 27% while UC enrollment has gone up by 43% since 2008 and that state funding is still $460 million less than what it was in 2007/08. Since 2011, student fees now exceed funding from the State of California.
Unless this is the only way to sustain the quality of the UC, I ask the Board of Regents to reject this proposal. Taking inspiration from Germany, here’s my call to action to my fellow students, but also to the UC administration, the Board of Regents and the people of California: actually make the commitment to work together and lobby the legislatures and Governor Brown before he proposes the budget in January and persist until the May Revised Budget to remind our governor and state the need to better prioritize higher education.