Higher education is becoming an exceedingly costly option for students. Student loan debt surpassed $1 trillion in 2013, placing it as the second highest form of consumer debt behind mortgages. The graduating class of 2014 set a record for being the most indebted class ever, with an average of $33,000 per student.
For the duration of the 2014-15 school year, students at all 10 UC campuses can expect tuition to remain the same — after this period, however, the fiscal future of the UC remains uncertain.
The UC Board of Regents discussed possible budget shortfalls in their March meeting for the 2015-16 academic year following Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal in January. The board expressed doubts that the tuition freeze would continue past the upcoming year.
Last November, UC President Janet Napolitano proposed a tuition freeze for the 2014-15 academic year, marking the third consecutive year without a tuition hike.
While the possibility of a tuition increase may loom over the heads of UC students and parents, the university will not release any statement until the budget is locked for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
“[The UC] understands what California has been going through over the last five or six years,” said UC spokesperson Brooke Converse. “Have we gotten everything we want? Absolutely not. We’re working with Sacramento constantly to fight for, and lobby for [financial security]. We think we are heading in the right direction.”
But for SUA External Vice Chair Tony Milgram, the state of California is not doing enough to ensure the financial well-being of the UC.
“Jerry Brown has his own agenda, he does his own thing,” Milgram said. “He has his own projects that he works on, and it’s just the way he does things. He’s not the most adamant supporter of education.”
Milgram speculates without the support of the state, students across the UC system may see budget cuts in areas such as retirement benefits and infrastructure costs, as well as some changes in class sizes. In addition, UCOP is currently undergoing a salary and hiring freeze while attempting to rework the UC’s tuition policies.
Milgram said SUA made it a priority to vocalize the opinions of the student body to the governor and his administration.
“I told [Gov. Brown] on several occasions that we don’t appreciate how [he] is dis-investing from our education,” Milgram said, who visits the capitol on a weekly basis to lobby for student rights. “I just got the response that that’s how the state is run.”
Gov. Brown’s budget proposal included a 5 percent increase for the UC, or $142 million. Even with this increase, the university will fall short $124 million.
The UC has not released any statement indicating there will be a tuition hike, and UC spokesperson Brooke Converse said this is a sign that Gov. Brown’s administration is in fact investing in higher education.
“He’s working within the limitations of the budget,” Converse said. “We appreciate that the governor is making an attempt to reinvest in higher education. We feel as though he’s doing his best to invest in UC and in higher education in general.”
Converse also said the current objective for UC President Napolitano and UCOP is to ensure tuition remains as stagnant as possible, despite California’s unsteady budget.
“The president said publicly that she’s looking at a group of folks to look at the tuition policies,” Converse said. “If it has to rise, they’ll make sure it’s predictable for families so they know exactly how much it’s going to rise.”
SUA Commissioner of Diversity Charlsie Chang said a possible tuition increase reflects the trend of the “privatization of education.” She also added that it veers away from the original Master Plan for the public education system of California.
“The 1960 Master Plan provided three major tenants,” Chang said. “Access, affordability and quality — all of which suffered with decreased public funding, which began when Reagan was governor of California. This reliance on tuition and fees to make up for that gap is the only solution that the UC Regents rely on.”
While the UC may have deviated from these original three tenants, the most important factor for Milgram and the rest of SUA is ensuring that the quality of the UC remains the same.
“It’s something that should be known and said constantly — students do care about quality,” Milgram said. “We are the number one public school system in the world and we’re trying to keep it that way.”