The University of California Board of Regents will convene for their second day of meetings today at UC San Francisco Mission Bay to discuss various measures including a proposed eight percent student fee hike.
Anticipated to pass the Regent’s vote, this latest fee increase of $822 annually would be approved on the heels of last Fall’s 32 percent tuition increase, bringing the average cost of in-state tuition to $12,150 a year. The board will also vote on an amendment to the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan — a UC financial aid plan that fully covers the tuition fees of California residents whose families earn less than $70,000 — and discuss projected changes to the UC pension plan during the three-day-long bi-monthly business meeting.
The boost in student fees — potentially the 10th increase in the past eight years — would generate an estimated $180 million for the UC, $64 million of which would be allotted to financial aid. The suggested hike has already generated anger across the UCs, including a demonstration held at UC Santa Cruz yesterday by as many as 150 student protesters.
According to UCOP Media Director Peter King, the proposed fee increase is unavoidable given the 10 percent decrease in permanent state support for the UC since 2007-2008. King said the UC received only $370 million in state funding this year, restoring just over half of the $637 million that was cut from the UC budget in 2009-2010.
“We’re seeing this whole budget as a way to get back on more stable footing,” King said. “We went through a tremendous shock the year before, cut a billion dollars out of our budget, went through fee increases, furlough program, lots of layoffs and programs cuts — we can’t keep doing that. We need to make a plan that will make sure your UC degree is worth as much as a UC degree was worth 10 years ago.”
However, A.S. External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Doug Wagoner said maintaining the quality of the University has become synonymous with privatization.
“I think it’s really unfortunate that our university keeps moving towards a privatized model and that it continuously looks to put the burden of this financial crisis on the backs of students,” Wagoner said. “It’s egregious that we continuously have to pay more and more every year.”
King said students can thank the unstable state economy for the rise in fees.
“It’s a balancing act — the students’ concerns are heard loud and clear,” King said. “We always hope the next [increase] is the last one. California’s economy is a moving beast and it hasn’t been moving in a way that’s been favorable to us, so you can’t make predictions in that environment. You can’t make promises.”
Adam Keigwin, chief of staff to state senator Leland Yee, said pointing fingers at California’s government won’t solve the UC’s financial problems.
“[The Regents] all want to blame the legislature,” Keigwin said. “I get it. There maybe is some blame to go there … but this particular year, there were no cuts to the UC and yet they’re still raising student fees. At what point do you say enough is enough?”
Noor Aljawad, a second-year Middle Eastern studies and sociology major, said this fee hike will be one of yet another to come, as the Regents seem to prefer this method of cutting costs.
“[The increase] is unjustified because it happens on a yearly basis and the issue is not so much whether or not the money is there — it’s a matter of allocation,” she said. “For example, instead of having those fancy, flat-screen TVs in the dining commons, why not use that money to better accommodate students in the classrooms? Why not cut down the salaries of these Regents as well as that of the UC President Mark Yudof and minimize their perks? The Regents are more interested in securing their retirements than helping us out.”
King, on the other hand, said UCOP is consolidating resources to prune the administrative budget.
“Through a series of efforts on the campus and throughout the system, we’re looking at $500 million in lowered administrative costs in five years’ time,” King said. “In this next budget, we can identify $100 million that we’ve trimmed out of administrative costs — not by cutting, but working a little smarter.”
Contrarily, Keigwin said in a phone interview, it was unacceptable for the Regents to compensate for exorbitant administrative expenditures with a student fee hike.
“There never should be a year when student fees are increased as well as executive compensation,” Keigwin said. “If there’s enough money to give top executives $100,000 bonuses and top executives are making well over a million dollars within the UC system and getting raises, then you shouldn’t have to raise student fees.”
The Regents will also vote today on a proposal to increase eligibility for the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan by raising the minimum household income requirement from $70,000 to $80,000. Also, should the eight percent fee hike be approved, the Regents could possibly grant one-year fee increase waivers to students whose families earn between $80,000 and $120,000.
A letter addressed to the UCSB campus community from Associated Students said the moderate increases to UC financial aid aren’t nearly enough recompense for the toll fee hikes exact on the ten-campus system’s quality of education.
“This proposed increase, like ones before it, is based on the misguided ‘high-aid, high-fee’ model, where raised fees are said to be offset by a growth in aid,” the letter said. “This model seriously overlooks middle-income students as well as undocumented students, both of which are forced to pay the increases but continue to have little or no access to the new aid that is offered.”
Aljawad said expanding aid to offset the projected fee increase is nowhere near a fair trade.
“The Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan was introduced as something new that was put into effect in response to the outrage over past fee hikes,” Aljawad said. “But as far as I know, it was a rebranding of what was already meant to be ensured through the California Master Plan for Higher Education that was passed in 1960. It’s not a favor. It’s what was promised to us long before Yudof and Regent [Russell] Gould came along.”
The board will also discuss potential changes to UC employees’ pension plan slated for a Board vote in December. The new two-tiered plan would require increased contributions from current employees while providing fewer benefits. It would also raise the minimum retirement age from 50 to 55 for employees hired after July 2013.
“The purpose of both the prongs is to correct a $21 billion hole of unfunded liabilities and it’s simply time to act,” King said. “This is a problem that has festered and grown for 20 years and President Yudof has decided to reverse the course. We were spending more on retirement than on education and that doesn’t seem right.”
However, Keigwin said the Regents’ total autonomy on the matter is both dangerous and unjust.
“[The changes] may or may not be necessary, but without the workers having a voice, it’s just not right,” Keigwin said. “With the UC, there are no checks and balances and the people’s representatives have no real voice. If the Regents were elected, that’d be another story, but the Regents are not elected. They’re selected by the governor and then they get to rule.”
*A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Wednesday November 17 was the first day of this three-day-long Regents meet. In actuality, it began on Tuesday November 16.