A Sacramento agency released a recommendation last Wednesday that has the potential to increase University of California undergraduate student fees, cut spending on outreach programs and consolidate financial aid to CalGrant awards as part of an effort to relieve the $17.5 million California deficit.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office – a nonpartisan analysis agency that reviews and analyzes state financial matters for the California Legislature – recommended that the legislature adopt a budget that would include a program for increasing student fees in its analysis of Governor Gray Davis’ proposed 2002-2003 budget released in early January. As part of the program, the LAO recommends that the UC implement a program that would charge students either 30, 40 or 50 percent of education costs, an increase of $1,000, $2,620 and $4,240 respectively, from the current student tuition charges. Student tuition accounts for 20 percent of education costs.

Base fees for undergraduate students have not been raised in eight years. According to the report, the state has paid $279 million to the UC since 1995 for fee backfill, which is money the University uses to keep tuition prices low. The current system causes the tuition to fluctuate from year to year since the amount of backfill the state budget can allow is based on the state’s economy.

“It’s really unpredictable and it swings both ways,” said Steve Boilard, the LAO Director for the higher education section.

The LAO recommended that the UC raise tuition fees based on comparable universities’ fees such as the University of Michigan and the University of New York. If the legislature accepts the recommendation, they would implement the higher fees over a period of a few years using a system that is “consistent and predictable” to avoid an immediate fee hike.

“For any one year there shouldn’t be a jump in fees,” Boilard said. “We really believe this is a sound policy that should be put into place no matter what the fiscal situation is.”

The legislature will review Davis’ proposed budget in the spring, but will come to a final decision in June. The LAO, though overseen by the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, is one of many groups and the legislature does not always follow its recommendations, Boilard said.

The report also focuses on other possible areas for cuts, such as outreach programs – programs that target underprivileged kindergarten through 12th-grade students and encourage them to go college – and supports the governor’s recent cut of 5 percent, totaling $4.2 million, for outreach. The LAO report states some outreach programs overlap and provide the same resources or services, which waste state funding.

The UC-wide outreach program received a funding cut last year and is facing a proposed 5 percent cut that campus outreach officials said would be devastating.

” The cut would actually hurt the progress we’ve made in getting more underrepresented students at UCSB,” said Joe Castro, the campus outreach initiative executive director.

The report also recommended a consolidation of the financial aid awards the individual California universities give out into CalGrant awards by redirecting funds. This system would allow students to apply for grants in one place and would be more flexible since it distributes money based on popularity of a college or college system, Boilard said. The program would also facilitate the legislature’s ability to track funding.

Boilard said the LAO looked at what cut would have the least impact on the University’s mission of education and instruction, and would ensure that financial aid for needy students is not affected, while researching their recommendation.

LAO agreed that more funding for summer sessions is required because raising summer enrollment would take pressure off the need for more costly capital development. Shawn Landres, a member of the year-round enrollment committee, said the report assumes that the same number of students will attend summer sessions as other academic quarters and miscalculates the need for more capital projects year round.

“We’re still growing faster than we have space to keep up,” he said.