Courtesy of Thomas Holguin/HIGHLANDER
Courtesy of Thomas Holguin/HIGHLANDER

To increase tuition or not to increase tuition


San Francisco — Wednesday, Jan. 25 and Thursday, Jan. 26 saw the assembly of the UC Board of Regents for the first meeting of the year at UCSF Mission Bay, with the potential of a 2.5 percent tuition increase being the primary point of discussion. After sparking a lengthy debate, the board approved the tuition increase in a vote of 16-4, with the increases to be implemented as part of the 2017-18 operating budget and expected to generate $465.2 million in revenue from students. Discussion over where additional funds would be obtained moving into the future also took place.


On Wednesday, UC President Janet Napolitano gave her opening remarks, with one of her major discussion points asking the regents to vote in favor of the increase. “We are working hard to secure state funding and other sources of revenue that will support growth. And at the same time, we are proposing a moderate inflation-based adjustment of $282 — the first in seven years — plus an additional $54 in the student services fee largely dedicated to improving mental health services on our campuses,” Napolitano explained.


At the start of both days, during public comment students from several UC schools warned the regents about the detrimental effects the increase would bear on students already struggling with issues such as housing and food insecurity.


Moving forward to Thursday, Diana Jekki, a third-year political science/law and society major at UCR, was one of a few students who spoke both days of the meeting during public comment, prior to the voting on the tuition increase. On the second day she addressed the regents saying, “I think after being able to sit in on the meetings yesterday that you all hold, that it is easy to forget these students all have different stories and experiences that are uniquely different from each other,” Jekki began. “I have watched you invalidate all of those stories simply by treating the University of California as an institution, or a business, and not as the educational system it is supposed to be,” Jekki said before urging the regents to search for other methods of revenue.


Associated Students of UC Davis President Alex Lee followed Jekki by bringing forth the issue of raising tuition and the negative impact it will have on students that currently receive no financial aid. Next, Cal student Ifechukwu Okeke also addressed the regents by claiming that they are not truly representing students after several students traveled from hours away to attend the last meeting, but the regents still did not appear to be listening to them.


UC Student Association President Ralph Washington Jr. then took a seat at one of the desks amongst the regents to speak to them directly, offering a different message than others who spoke against tuition increases earlier. “Students invest more in education than the state does, and the state invests more in prisons, than it does in higher education,” Washington spoke slowly. “We must make a case to the state that if we invest in graduation, not incarceration, we will transform education.”


UC Chief Financial Officer Nathan Brostrom agreed that divestment by the state of California from education had hurt the system and this could be attributed to the need for a tuition increase. According to his presentation that he used to propose the budget, the 1990-91 academic school year witnessed an average of $19,100 per student contributed from state general funds, while students attending UC’s for the 2016-17 school year only received an average of $7,160 from the state.


After lengthy debate over the increase, with mixed responses from a number of the regents,

Regent John Perez made a motion to split the operating budget into two sections, separating the tuition increase from the remainder of the budget. The motion was denied after a vote of 12-8, and the entire budget was approved.


Despite the resulting vote being as it was, many of the regents expressed interest in finding other ways to obtain funding and fight against the state’s divestment.


How this increase will affect students


Even with the increase, families earning less than $80,000 will continue to have their financial aid fully covered. Middle class scholarships are also expected to see an increase, even though Brostrom admitted that a majority of the funds contributed to this scholarship would not be sourced from the tuition increase. Undergraduate nonresident supplemental tuition will also be adjusted to $1,332 more per year.


One-third of the $336 will be a return to financial aid, while the remainder will be utilized to benefit students through means such as improving resources available on campuses, hiring faculty, providing more courses and improving mental health resources available to students. The increase is also expected to support the 10,000 more students that are to be enrolled by 2019.


Why does education appear to be getting more expensive?


A number of the regents acknowledged that much of the financial struggles faced by the UC system today is the result of the state’s divestment in higher education. Despite enrolling a greater number of students, funding by the state has remained diminished overall.


Hadi Makarachen, regent and chair of the finance and capital strategies committee, pointed out during his report how divestment has led to the need for campuses to find external financing to pay for capital projects, therefore accumulating debt.


“They (the state) are not giving us any of the funding for buildings, for any of the maintenance, capital … libraries, classes,” even with increasing enrollment, Makarachen explained.


Regent George Kieffer brought attention to the shift from the public expenditure of money for education to the individuals attending schools for higher education, saying, “It’s not the costs per student of education that has increased, it’s the withdrawal of the state from two areas. One, operating expenses on a year-to-year basis, and no longer taking care of capital needs.”


How will UC be funded in the future?


Questions over where funds would be coming from in the future were also on the table during the meeting. While many of the UC’s are successful at this point in time, it was raised how they would continue to succeed alongside elite private schools who struggle less with funding. With increasing debt levels, rising tuition may not prove to be sufficient in conquering this.


Ideas suggested during the meeting on where to obtain funds moving forward included raising taxes to fund colleges and using endowment cost recovery for campuses with a healthy endowment. Additionally, a number of regents acknowledged that lobbying and making concessions with California Governor Jerry Brown would be their best bet in having the state reinvest in the UC system.