Why the Tuition Freeze is Not Enough

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Illustration by Heather Rose.
Illustration by Heather Rose.

A small victory was won for in-state UC students on May 13. Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to increase state funding has delayed a tuition increase for the next two years, which assures that students won’t have to brave a tuition hike next fall. With the two-year tuition freeze, it shouldn’t be forgotten that a delay in tuition hikes is a ticking time bomb.

In a November act of brinkmanship, UC President Janet Napolitano proposed an up to 5 percent tuition increase for the next five years if the UC didn’t receive an increase in state funding. With Brown’s proposed 4 percent increase in state funding toward the UC for the next four years and a single infusion of $436 million over the next three years to address the UC’s multibillion dollar pension deficit, Napolitano’s plan has been placed on the backburner.

For now, in-state tuition has stabilized — while out of state tuition has risen by 8 percent — but the agreement between Napolitano and Brown comes with some unexpected stipulations. Under the deal, the UC aims to cut major requirements, add academic advisers and increase the number of entry-level online classes to promote a three-year graduation period.

Cruising students through the university may alleviate course bottlenecking and allow for increased enrollment, but it would be at the detriment of every current UC student’s education.

Whether graduation takes four, five or six years, time spent at the university encourages stronger faculty connections, academic confidence and space for internships and work or research experience. With 52 percent of UC Santa Cruz students who entered as freshmen graduating in four years and 77 percent graduating in six years, transitioning to a three-year graduation plan will prove difficult, and potentially harmful.

There’s a blatant issue with students shoveling tens of thousands of dollars into a system that endeavors to rely on online courses and cutting major requirements for a faster graduation. While this shift may be conducive to a lighter workload and saving time, it will risk the value of a degree and prioritize the education of students who wish to forgo community and conversation.

Rather than working to restructure the graduation period and requirements, the real problem of the state’s continual disinvestment in the UC system needs to remain at the forefront of budget negotiations.

Historically, the UC has relied on state funding for its core funds, but there has been a shift in recent years to rely on tuition, especially since state funding has been decreased by over 65 percent since 1990. The UC’s 2013-14 total budget was $25.6 billion, but nearly 75 percent of that budget is specifically designated for research, medical centers, Department of Energy lab operations and campus housing.

Consequently, the UC’s core funds, totaling $6.6 billion, are derived from state funds at $2.64 billion, student tuition and fee revenue at $3.03 billion and UC general funds at $929 million. With the UC relying primarily on non-state funding, students and their families have been bearing the burden the state has neglected.

Gov. Brown’s revised budget will result in six consecutive years of no tuition increases, but tuition hikes will continue to loom over the head of every newly admitted UC student. Before everyone discards their picket signs, bullhorns and banners, it’s imperative to consider the tuition freeze for what it is — temporary.

Brown’s new budget reflects the state’s improved fiscal condition, but he has said he will not fall into the trap of thinking that more money means we’ve reached “utopia” as that is “demonstrably false as evidenced by the last 12 years.” Above all else, Brown said “we have to learn from history and not keep repeating the mistakes.”

One mistake that cannot be repeated is the UC’s continual failure to reform its bloated pensions. A Sacramento Bee editorial asserted that UC employees can count as much as $265,000 in figuring their pensions — more than twice that of state employees. Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) reportedly told the Bee that if the UC capped its pensions to match the state, the university could save anywhere from $80 million to $100 million annually in the long term, enough to cover in-state enrollment for 10,000 California students.

While the current increase in state funding is reliant on the speculation of continued economic growth, it can’t be said that the UC has found a reliable source of funds. Students shouldn’t remain complacent in the light of the recent freeze as it is a small victory in a history of losses.

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