In a first-of-its-kind plan for the University of California system, the UC Board of Regents discussed a cohort-based tuition plan at its July 18 meeting — meaning tuition would remain the same during students’ time at college as it was when students first entered, and any tuition increases would only be applied to incoming students.
David Alcocer, associate vice president of the Budget Analysis and Planning office, led the discussion around the possibility of cohort-based tuition.
“[Cohort-based tuition] could benefit students and institutions alike,” he said during the meeting, pointing out that the practice has “been adopted by a number of public universities in other states” but that it has never been done on “as large a scale as we are discussing today.”
To better implement the plan, Alcocer said the UC Office of The President (UCOP) reached out to universities that have implemented cohort-based tuition to learn what works and what doesn’t, stating that universities must have stable revenue streams from state funds, tuition and investments in order to reach their principle goals.
He also pointed out that the tuition changes could be “pegged to the rate of inflation” so that the tuition would remain flat at “constant dollars,” meaning the purchasing power of the cost remains the same throughout each year, but the cash amount goes up with inflation.
Nathan Brostrom, executive vice president of the UC Office of the Chief Financial Officer, said there are numerous decisions involved with the change, such as deciding whether the approach would be for both undergraduate and graduate students, whether the plan should include just base tuition or other fees as well and how long a cohort should be defined as, noting that many low-income students take longer to complete their degree.
When phasing in cohort-based tuition, the tuition increases would ideally be tied to inflation but would affect only a quarter of the students at the beginning, “so you might have to do a slightly higher increase in the beginning to make up for that lost revenue,” Brostrom said.
Recalling numerous protests over tuition hikes, Regent Sherry Lansing said that it was not necessarily the tuition hike that caused an outcry but rather inconsistency in the tuition hikes, referencing the 2009 Occupy protests.
Lansing stated that she has never seen the Regents want to increase tuition, but by not raising tuition, universities often have to cut programs and limit their growth in response to shortfalls.
“It seems to me that this is a perfect time to discuss this,” she said.
Vice Chair Cecilia Estolano explained that for the plan to be successful, the UC would need the California state legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom to both be fully on board with the plan in addition to maintaining the UC’s goals. UC’s goals for 2030 are to award upwards of 1 million degrees, close the achievement gap and add 1,100 professor positions.
She added that having a steady revenue for the UC would be necessary to maintain the cohort-tuition approach. Estolano continued by noting that unexpected pitfalls in funding are a guarantee going forward.
“We know there will be a recession. We know there will be pressure, so we need to have some other mechanism to still achieve these goals,” Estolano said.
According to Regent Lark Park, the issue came down to, “How do we fund the university we want?” He said that if the Regents approach this model, they need to look deeply into where the UC’s money comes from before going forward with any plans.
“It’s been very clear from the conversation that we cannot look at this as a singular question but how it relates to other issues, raised with respect to what kind of university we want to build,” Regent Chair John Perez said.
In closing the discussion, Napolitano said that a working group has been formed to research the topic, consisting of Chair Perez, Regent Maria Anguiano, Student Regent Hayley Weddle and UC Vice Chair of the Academic Senate Kum-Kum Bhavnani.
“We obviously have a lot of work to do,” Napolitano said.