University of California and California State University students may not have to pay a several hundred dollar fee increase next school year, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to fund the systems with an additional $130 million.
Schwarzenegger’s proposed 2006-07 budget, to be released tomorrow, would fund UC with an additional $75 million dollars while CSU would receive about $54 million. If passed by the state legislature, the allocations would prevent fee increases previously approved by the UC Regents and CSU Trustees. The legislature must approve the budget by July 1.
The Regents approved an eight percent fee increase for undergraduates in November 2005, boosting yearly in-state tuition fees by $492 to a total of $6,633. The Regents also set graduate student fees to increase by 10 percent, or $690, making the total cost rise from $6,897 to $7,587. Fees for UC law schools, medical schools and other professional schools would go up by five percent.
As part of their approval to raise fees, however, the Regents promised to rescind the increases if the state provided additional funding.
UC officials and legislators have cited the state’s persistent deficits as the reason for steadily rising student fees, which have increased every year for the past four years. The state was expected to once again have a steep deficit this year. However, according to California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, the state economy has grown more than expected, helping it to end its fiscal year with about $5.2 billion in reserves – nearly erasing the deficit.
In addition to economic growth, UC Students Association (UCSA) Chair Felicia Cruz said she believes the lobbying efforts of students contributed to the governor’s decision to “buy out” the fee increases. Cruz, who is also the Associated Students External Vice President of Statewide Affairs, said Schwarzenegger could have chosen from a number of projects on which to spend the $130 million, but felt political pressure to help students and their families avoid further financial dire straits.
Cruz said she is pleased with the governor’s proposal, but a freeze on fees this year is not a guarantee against fee increases next year. Low-income students are especially vulnerable to rising fees, she said, as the cost of education is already too high for them.
“This is just a one-time solution, and we have to look at the long-term problem,” Cruz said.
Currently, the UC is under a compact with the governor to raise fees over time, helping to absorb state deficits – but doing so at a steady and predictable rate – with the promise of additional funding later. The compact, signed in May 2004, extends until 2011.
Although the compact helps families better plan for future increases, it is not a long-term solution, said Steve Boilard, director of the higher education unit of the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
Boilard said California lacks a “logical formula” for determining student fees. Many other states, he said, charge students a prescribed percentage of the cost of their education – say 30 percent – and raise fees only to account for inflation and additional costs. UC students currently pay about 29 percent of the total cost of their education, he said, the rest being paid for by the state.
However, such a percentage could increase in years of poor economic growth, Boilard said. In the late 1990s, for instance, the state actually lowered student fees because it was “awash in money,” he said. In 2003, however large deficits caused fees to increase by 40 percent.