Predictable Tuition Hikes

Rei Terada:

Having previously agreed with Governor Brown not to raise tuition for three years ending in spring 2016, the UC Regents have now unilaterally broken the agreement. Give UC more funds, the Regents say, or we’ll raise tuition 5% in 2015–and another 5% a year for at least four years after that. While the Regents claim to negotiate on behalf of those who use the university–students, staff and faculty–their new gambit instead shows the difference between the Regents and higher Administration, on one hand, and “those who use” the university on the other. For organizations like the unions and faculty associations would of course like more funds from the legislature, too. But those groups aren’t demanding that students pay up if the legislature doesn’t. To them, it’s obvious that another tuition increase wouldn’t help California students, and that it’s counterproductive to threaten to do something counterproductive. Contrary to UCOP’s PR campaigns in favor of a “return to aid funding model” (high tuition, high aid), student debt has been rising during this period of “high aid.” It’s been shown that when working class students have to use up their Pell grants on high tuition, they wind up working longer hours and going into tens of thousands of dollars of debt for housing and living expenses. Yet this is what the Regents are willing to bring about. And Mary Gilly, the chair of the Faculty Senate, lines the Senate up behind the administration more plainly than ever by calling the tuition increase an “unfortunate” but “good option.”

In many ways the tuition increase proposal looks more like an intent than a coercion tactic. More state funding “is probably not likely,” Gilly notes (ibid.). UCOP has already developed a strategy for justifying the increases regardless of their pressure-value: (1) they could be worse, being “not . . . more than 5%” a year; (2) they would feed the “return to aid funding model” (according to an email sent to staff on Friday by Michelle Whittingham, Associate Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management at UCSC); and (3) they would offer “predictability.” UCOP’s press release euphemizes the raise by calling it a “stability plan.” But stability, predictability and not-being-more than 27% (at the end of the period, tuition would be 27% over its current base) are all empty qualities that drain the increase of its positive content, which is, obviously, revenue on the backs of students. A 5% increase will pay more than 4% a year from the legislature, even after return-to-aid. If that wasn’t so the increase could not be proposed at all. At the same time, as Michael Meranze observes, “UCOP’s proposal actually leaves open the possibility of up to a 9% tuition increase” if Governor Brown is uncooperative–and that would have the most point of all. Technically, no ceiling for this scenario is mentioned in UCOP’s announcement. Its language is: “tuition would not increase by more than 5 percent annually for five years, provided the state maintains its current investment commitment” (my italics). And so finally, even “predictability” is erased, since UCOP’s statement merely says that it will be there unless it’s not.


UCOP’s Failed Funding Model

The first thing to say about the UC’s five-year plan to raise tuition 5% each year is that it is neither predictable nor logical. President Napolitano has said on several occasions that students need this plan so they can predict and plan for tuition increases, but she has also said that the 5% tuition increase is contingent on the state increasing UC’s funding by 4% each year. I have asked several UCOP officials, what happens if Governor Brown keeps his promise of only giving 4% if the UC freezes tuition? The only coherent response I have gotten to this question is that UC will be forced to increase the number of non-resident students and decrease the number of students from California.

Before we get to the question of non-resident tuition, we have to realize that several things may happen that make UCOP’s tuition plan anything but predictable: 1) the state eliminates its 4% increase and UC raises tuition by 5%, and thus gets a 1% gain for all of its efforts; 2) the state eliminates its 4%, and UC raises tuition 9%; 3) the state keeps the 4% increase and UC raises tuition 5%; 4) the states decides to increase its contribution beyond 4% and UC decreases its tuition increase by the same amount. So tuition may go up in the next five years, anywhere from 0% to 53% or even higher if there is another fiscal crisis. Making matters more complicated is that this negotiation has to happen every year for five years, and no one has asked what happens if there is another budget crisis, and the state cuts UC funding? So the first problem with the sustainable five-year plan is that it is neither logical, nor predictable, nor long-term.