Facing potential tuition hikes, the Office of the External Vice President writes this letter to the student body of UCSB. This is the first of many in a series of letters outlining our plan on how to combat future tuition hikes.
The Organic Act of 1868 promised that “tuition shall be free to all residents of [California]” permitting that the university had enough income for free education for all students. While for many years this pledge held true, the Board of Regents started skirting around this responsibility in 1921 by charging various fees, like an incidental fee and a registration fee. The Board continued avoiding the t-word even when in 1970 they enacted a high “educational fee” for all undergraduate and graduate students — a tuition increase in all but the name. This marked the beginning of a long rise in incremental charges to California residents.
From then on, things started taking a turn for the worse. Between 1975 and 1985, the annual cost of tuition and fees went from $630 to $1,296 for resident undergraduates, a 105 percent increase. In 1995, resident undergrads had to pay $4,354 annually, a number that climbed to $7,434 in 2005. This reached a flashpoint in 2009 when students occupied UC buildings in protest of a massive proposed 32 percent increase in tuition. The UC system began facing budget cuts, and in 2011 students paid more into the system in tuition than the state did in funding it. Today, resident undergraduates pay $12,294 annually in tuition and fees. Thanks to a strong mobilization effort from the student bodies across the UCs and the passing of Proposition 30, a tax on high earners to fund higher education, a two-year tuition freeze was agreed to in 2015. This tuition freeze expires at the end of this year.
I must preface this by saying that cutting funding for education is not done out of necessity, but out of political choice. Despite the renewal of Proposition 30 (Proposition 55 on the ballot), we might still be facing a tuition increase. If one is on the table, the hike would be slated for January. This means we must organize immediately to prevent another tuition hike from going through.
The doctrine of “high fee high aid” (HFHA) has dominated the Board of Regents’ approach to tuition for the past decade. In a nutshell, HFHA means exactly what its name implies: charge high fees to students and offer high financial aid. Not only is HFHA dangerous, but it is also unsustainable. High tuition has real ramifications on how students decide where to go to college and what they choose to study. A UK study conducted by the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) found that students from low-income backgrounds are 20 percent more likely to attend a university near home and live at home while studying than their peers. Additionally, if fees were reduced, the participants said they were 45 percent more likely to choose a different major and 60 percent would work less during the school year.
The primary reasons why the UC system has had to increase tuition are difficult to pin down. While they can be attributed to decreased state funding and higher enrollment rates, the root of problem is much deeper than that. The General Fund has faced increasing demands in recent years and other necessary expenditures, like K-12 education and prisons, which have eaten a large portion of the budget.
Despite these difficulties, the Office of the External Vice President remains committed to implementing new and innovative ways to prevent future tuition hikes. There are many solutions available, but one thing remains clear: We need wide sweeping changes to the way the University of California and California approach funding higher education.