Following a $650 million funding reduction for higher education in California’s latest state budget, the UC Regents unveiled a long-term budget plan last week suggesting that student contributions to the UC would continue to increase 8 to 16 percent annually for the next four years.
The beginning of this quarter already marks the first time students’ financial contribution to the UC has outstripped that of the state, with totals weighing in at $2.8 billion and $2.4 billion, respectively. This results from a ten percent student fee increase in July — the second such action mandated by the Regents for Fall 2011 and third since Nov. 2009 .
Under the board’s latest plan, which seeks to outline how UCs would respond to various possible state funding scenarios, systemwide fees for the 2015-16 school year could be as high as $22,068, jumping nearly $10,000 from this year’s $12,182.
UC Office of the President Public Affairs director Peter King said the proposal and ensuing discussion were intended to serve as a framework for negotiations with state legislators, ideally resulting in a long-term agreement that would give students, administration and faculty clearer expectations for the UC’s future.
“What is happening now is that every single year we do these last-minute adjustments, wild gyrations in terms of fees and furloughs and all the different variables,” King said. “We’re trying to say, ‘Okay, you’ve cut us this much. We’ll accept this as a new base, but we need to start growing forward.’”
While the board was originally expected to vote on the proposal this November, King said the vote will likely be delayed until next year while other possible solutions are examined.
“The conversation became almost a little bit too tuition-focused and the Regents had wide-ranging views on how to negotiate with the state, what other forms of alternative funding might be explored, all sorts of things that they want to explore further before they commit to any long-term proposals,” King said.
THE SCRAMBLE TO COVER THE GAP IN STATE FUNDING
Before resorting to further fee hikes for students, the Regents will attempt to stimulate donations from private sources including alumni, foundations and corporations. As the university system was once entirely state-funded, the incorporation of [private] support is a relatively new tactic. According to UCSB Alumni Association Assistant Director John Loftus, both students and alumni must begin thinking of their expected contributions as more akin to like those encouraged by private schools.
“Alumni have historically not had that sort of expectation that you give back because their education was funded by the state,” Loftus said. “One of the things that we’re doing is trying to communicate the need with existing alumni and as we go forward trying to communicate with our current students who are going to be our future alumni that we need them. We have 180,000 alumni and they’re all needed in order to help close this gaping hole caused by the California budget.”
UCSB Associate Deputy Director of Development Chris Pizzinat said while he expects philanthropic contributions to rise in response to student fee increases, these are not guaranteed to fall directly into students’ hands.
“Last fiscal year we raised $34 million in private support donations; of that, last year about $4.5 million went to student support, including undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships,” Pizzinat said. “We’re talking about billion dollar cuts to the system in any given year; we’re talking about not inconsequential numbers here. It’s a much, much bigger number than what philanthropy can make up for in any given year.”
This expectation is also complicated by a future alumni pool which will likely be riddled with student debt in the midst bleak job market and will inevitably need to focus on maintaining their own financial wellbeing before that of their alma mater.
King said while the state covered 78 percent of students’ costs as recently as 1991, it will only cover 39 percent this year.
“It’s a long-term trend that has been going on 20 years; in 20 years our state’s contribution has been reduced by at least half,” King said. “There are people who have an investment in making the elephant seem like it’s not an elephant, that it’s a parakeet or something, but the elephant is an elephant. State funding is being cut.”
State funding could be reduced a further $100 million as soon as January if tax revenue goals aren’t met. King said this represents an inverse relationship to the benefits the UC contributes to the state.
“Every dollar that they invest in the state, they get a multiple of anywhere up to $13 back,” King said. “But that’s just a part of it, we haven’t figured out how taking a 40 percent Pell Grant student body and making them UC educated and degreed and sending them out into society will change the future of the state. 50 percent of our students are the first member of their family to attend college. These are transformational things that have changed California for the better and I don’t think you can put a dollar sign on them. But if the UC goes away, that goes away.”
First-year student Maddy Kirsch, who will begins her first day as a UC student today, said she is concerned about the course the system will take during her four years.
“I have younger siblings; it’s scary to think that this opportunity might not be available to them when they’re coming into college,” Kirsch said. “If it’s that expensive my parents might say, ‘Community college first.’ One of [my brothers] is nine so he’s got ten years to go — it could be really awful by then.”
Admissions Director Christine Van Gieson said 10,166 transfer students applied to UCSB for 2009-2010, 12,349 for 2010-2011 and 14,293 this year, suggesting that high school graduates have already adopted a different outlook towards higher education.
“We’re seeing big jumps in applications from California community college students and I think that is a some evidence that more students are using the first two years to save money, going to the community college and then they’re transferring to a four-year institution,” Van Gieson said.
Van Gieson said our campus will also continue to see higher proportions of out-of-state and international students to make up for funding gaps. UC-wide, nonresidents made up 12.3 percent of Fall 2011 freshmen, up from eight percent in Fall 2010.
“I do think that the campus will continue to seek nonresident students, not only for budgetary reasons but also because I do think that they provide a diversity to the undergraduate experience,” Van Gieson said. “I do think it’s is possible, but we don’t want to be caught going after only rich people.”
A.S. External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Ahmed Mostafa said the Regents are already weighing their financial interests more heavily than those of the students.
“When we look at quality, we’re not looking at the students anymore; we’re looking at different scenarios and I think that’s really troublesome,” Mostafa said. “There is quality in different kinds of students and the fact that we’re increasing tuition means we may have different quality students. We’re closing the doors to many students who are very qualified, who live in low-income areas and can’t afford Princeton Review classes to study for the SATs.”
Even for those who don’t fall into low-income brackets, paying for a UC education is now far from the financially sound decision it once was.
Sara Frederiksen, a first-year pre-biology major, said she is unsure if she will be able to keep up with the Regent’s fee increases.
“At least for me, it’s tight already and I know I fall right in the middle where I don’t qualify for financial aid but I’m not well-off enough to be able to do it all, so the fact that it’s just going to get more expensive makes me worry: will I even be able to go to school?” Frederiksen said. “It also puts pressure on us to choose jobs now so we know we have security and will be able to pay off what we paid to get that education.”
According to Van Gieson, many prospective students now consider their state education system to be a less viable and affordable option than many private institutions.
“Certainly we’re hearing that people are looking more widely and feeling that some out-of-state institutions are just as affordable as the University of California,” Van Gieson said. “I have to say though, having worked in the University of California for most of my adult life, that I think it’s going to continue to be a very popular option for students. But I think that as it gets more and more expensive, a number of people will begin to look outside where they previously would have only considered the UC.”
Private institutions have already become more affordable than the UC due to their more inclusive aid programs, according to Mostafa.
“Private schools have financial aid options for the middle class,” Mostafa said. “For example, if you go to school at Stanford you will have free tuition if your parents make under $100,000. You will have free room and board and tuition if your parents make below $60,000. For a school like Berkeley that’s competing with a school like Stanford, that is absolutely no competition.”
Current funding trends also pose obstacles to the process of attracting faculty. UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox intends to step down this June and UC Merced Chancellor Sung-Mo “Steve” Kang has already vacated his position, prompting the Regents to compile a report on compensation to be released next year.
Chair of UCSB’s Academic Senate Henning Bohn said faculty and staff salaries on campus have fallen noticeably behind.
“We’re finding that a good number of people get offers from other universities elsewhere in the country or even internationally and they often get a lot more,” Bohn said. “It used to be that the faculty compensation was comparable to what our competitors offered but we’re now more than 10 percent behind. It has an increasing impact.”
Bohn said as other states’ economies have found some renewed hope in effective solutions, California and the UC system are on track to only continue falling.
“Some of the other states are in somewhat better shape than California; they have their act together better so they’re making offers now too,” Bohn said. “Unless UC and California find a way to move forward and keep the university reasonably funded we’ll run into increasing difficulties with people getting hired away, and that of course increases class sizes and leaves fewer good instructors here for UCSB students.”
According to Young, the university system will continue to suffer until Californians reassess its value to the state.
“The people know what they are doing — or they should — and people are making conscious decisions to not fund public institutions and allow them to deteriorate and allow them to be paid for by the people who are using that particular service, and that is wrong,” Young said. “They’re choosing not to pay the taxes necessary to support higher education. That doesn’t serve the state and that doesn’t serve the people.”