UC regents’ tuition hike vote spurs debate on higher ed 'disinvestment'

Students walk near Sather Gate on the University of California at Berkeley campus.
Students walk near Sather Gate on the University of California at Berkeley campus.
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UC Regents approved another 10 percent tuition hike at a meeting in San Francisco Thursday, generating bitter feelings among students and staff and sparking debate on "disinvestment" in higher education.

The $1,068 tuition hike will help to plug a $650 million shortfall caused by state budget cuts to UC funding and follows an 8 percent hike already set to take effect in the new school year.

Undergraduate and graduate tuition for California residents will rise to $12,192, which doesn't include room, board and roughly $1,000 in campus fees. That's $1,890, or 18 percent, more than what UC undergraduates paid this past academic year and over three times what they paid a decade ago.

Students testified before the vote to urge the regents to find other ways to make up for the lost revenues.

Incoming UCLA freshman Joseph Silva drove up to Whittier to speak out against the hike. “These hikes hurt middle-class-income people like me who, our families make some money, but they just don’t have enough to pay for all of college," said Silva. "So I’m working all summer to save up for school; I’m going to continue working during school.”

UC officials say the additional tuition increase is needed because the 10-campus system faces a $1 billion budget shortfall caused by rising costs and a $650 million loss in government support in the recently approved state budget. This increase plugs the remaining $150 million shortfall left after the state made further cuts.

Lieutenant governor, and UC regent board-member, Gavin Newsom called the tuition hike another “nail in the coffin” of the state’s middle class. He blamed politicians in Sacramento, and challenged California voters to hold them accountable.

"Things aren’t happening in the state because 37 million people have accepted this creeping mediocrity," says Newsom. "They’ve accepted this as the way things are. There’s not been a code red. There’s nothing worse: this slow, steady, decline. And so I’m just here to argue that we need to interrupt this decline and we need to send a powerful message."

Newsom wanted to reinforce that message to Sacramento with his “no” vote on the tuition increase. He asked fellow regents to join him.

That prompted regent Norman Pattiz to speak up despite a bad case of laryngitis.

“I wish I was the lieutenant governor," said Pattiz. "Because if I was a lieutenant governor I could say what every lieutenant governor has said since I have been a regent on this board: ‘I can’t vote yes for this because of the following reasons.’ I don’t have that luxury, Mr. Lieutenant Governor. I have to vote yes.”

Pattiz said the UC system is on a precipice, and that regents can’t afford this particular message to Sacramento.

“You are the state government and you’re a good guy and your heart’s in the right place, and I admire you and I voted for you," he said. "But there’s nobody else from the state government here so I’m going to get pissed at you!"

Pattiz said he had to vote “yes” for the tuition hikes to keep the University of California running, and to keep offering the highest-quality public education.

The regents are working on ways to reduce the UC’s reliance on state money. This year they’ll increase the number of slots for out-of-state students, who pay much higher tuition than Californians. They’ve also pledged to try harder for large private donations to the 10-campus system.

One third of the estimated new revenue will be used for financial aid. UC officials say they hope to boost revenues this year by enrolling roughly 2,000 more out-of-state and international students who pay higher tuition. They say they’ll also double their fundraising efforts.

Even with the tuition increases, administrators say, the cost of a UC education is in line with that of comparable universities in Illinois, Michigan and Virginia, and about one-third the sticker price of private institutions such as Stanford University or the University of Southern California.

While tuition rises, classes and staff are being cut in both the UC and the California State University systems, leaving U.C. students paying more for less. Students respond to the cuts on today's Patt Morrison show.

The burden of higher tuition is expected to fall heaviest on middle-class students who don't qualify for financial aid.

Needy students from families earning less than $80,000 have all of their tuition covered by financial aid, and the tuition increase will be waived for one year for many students from families earning up to $120,000.

The UC system's move follows California State University's decision Tuesday to raise tuition by 12 percent on top of a previously approved 10 percent increase.

Annual tuition for in-state CSU undergraduates will increase this fall to $5,472, not including room, board or campus fees averaging $950. That's twice the cost of what it was in 2007.

This story incorporates information from the Associated Press.