The gist of the hike is this: After 2022, every freshman class admitted to a UC will experience an up to 5% increase in tuition, forever. Current projections from the UC Office of the President estimate that with the implementation of this plan, by 2026-27 in-state tuition and student fees for undergraduates will have gone up about $2,500 to a grim total of $15,078. Prospects for out-of-state students are even worse, with tuition and fees projected to rise $8,490, totaling at an astounding $50,814.
But don’t worry, cause the Board of Regents has a bridge to sell you. In part of the concerted propaganda campaign being run by the UC to make the hike seem like anything other than a betrayal of its founding principles, “the UC maintains that the proposed tuition model is ultimately better for all students.” They argue this by pointing to some of the good that will come out of the increased costs, such as new faculty hires, increased salaries and benefits and programs to boost graduation rates. They even make the laughable assertion that the increase will ultimately help low-income students, as 36% of the funds will go back to financial aid.
For better or for worse, I feel I have a journalistic obligation to tell you the truth: The propaganda is horseshit.
Sure, some of the money is going to nice things. But there is absolutely no reason why that money should be coming out of students’ pockets. The reason the UC is pursuing this strategy, instead of others, is a consequence of a decades-long effort to privatize and commodify education, with students being the primary victim.
Let’s establish the context in which this “forever hike” is being passed. First, the vote is taking place right off the back of the UC system receiving a substantial $1.27 billion in new funding this year, the “largest ever single-year funding increase.” This is a significant boost to the UC’s funding, although it will not cover the increased costs of running the UC which will total about $2.1 billion by 2026-27. The objective of the new tuition hike is for the UC to recover the difference between the increased state funding and the increase in estimated costs, but that’s not the only way to secure those funds.
The hike also comes at a time when the state of California has a budget surplus of $75.7 billion, a surplus that Governor Gavin Newsom himself has described as “the largest surplus in state history.” Covering the $830 million gap in needed funding would cost a paltry 1.09% of that surplus, and tuition wouldn’t have to be raised a dime.
But Governor Newsom and the state government have other plans. Instead, they’re using that surplus to pay for a $6.2 billion tax cut to businesses that have “suffered during the pandemic.” Tax cuts that come at a time when the poorest 20% of Americans already pay more in taxes than the super-wealthy, and off the back of the Trump tax cuts that helped billionaires pay less in taxes than workers in 2018. This is supposed to be justified in Newsom’s plan because many of the cuts go to small businesses, which we’re all supposed to love for some reason. In reality, these businesses pay their workers even less on average and are legally exempted from important labor protections, such as anti-racial and gender discrimination laws. But thank God students haven’t had anything to worry about during the pandemic, other than $1.7 trillion in student loan debt. Nonetheless, students were forced to keep paying tuition, fees and rent throughout the pandemic. Why are businesses now being allowed to get out of paying taxes?
In our case, public universities themselves are acting more and more like businesses concerned more with their bottom line than the quality of education.
Instead of getting to share in the post-pandemic economic boom, UC students are getting slapped by the first tuition hike in a decade. Why?
Because politicians and the wealthy aren’t very big fans of the “public” part of “public education.” Although our generation may have no memory of it, there was a time not so long ago when tuition for the University of California was free to residents of the state. That may seem like a pie in the sky fantasy today but was a reality as late as the ‘70s due to the fact that state funding represented a much larger portion of the University’s expenses.
But that funding has been cut again and again for decades. In 1986, state funding represented 86.8% of the UC’s core funds. Today that figure stands at a paltry 41%, less than half what it was 35 years ago. In that same period, tuition has multiplied 14 times over.
Instead, all that tax money that used to be going to education is being shoveled over into the private sector in droves. Newsom’s tax cuts are one example of this. Another example is the state’s “public” charter school scam. Although they are often misleadingly called public schools, charter schools are in fact private institutions, funded with taxpayer dollars. They are privatized in the sense that there is very little oversight in how the taxpayer money given to these institutions is used. Advocates for charter schools might say that this provides Californians with a “valuable alternative” to the traditional public school system. The reality is that the tax money given to these institutions is often misused and stolen. An infamous example of this was the case of “home charters,” institutions that appropriated thousands in tax dollars to pay for horseback riding lessons and family vacations to Disneyland. Eleven individuals heading up this particular hustle have since been charged with fraud, stealing $50 million in taxpayer money meant for public schools to invest in shitty start-ups and real estate.
Nonetheless, over 10% of Californian “public” school students attend these factually private institutions — replacing education with vacation and sapping millions of dollars from real public schools.
With each passing year, the University of California inches towards a similar fate. In our case, public universities themselves are acting more and more like businesses concerned more with their bottom line than the quality of education. That was the case in UC Santa Barbara’s response to COVID-19, and it is also the case now with the regents. Responsibility for this ultimately lies at the feet of Governor Newsom, who controls both the process by which regents are appointed and whose office is charged with drafting the state budget. Unfortunately, the Governor’s silence on the recent tuition hike has been deafening. Despite expressing opposition to the hike previously, Newsom’s budget proposal did not include the necessary funding to avert a rise in tuition and has been mysteriously silent in regards to the Board of Regent’s recent vote.
In this instance, actions speak louder than words. Since the Governor is not willing to take the necessary steps of his own volition, it’s up to UC students and workers to force him. Luckily, that’s just what we’re seeing.
On the day of the vote, a coalition of nine student groups marched on the office of the Board of Regents. In the press release announcing the action, they point to the contradiction of raising the price of tuition at a time when “the state of California faces a $76 billion budget surplus and as the national student debt sits at $1.7 trillion.” The tuition hike has also drawn the ire of unionized campus workers, with the President of UAW 2865 (the union for academic student employees of the UC) Rafael Jaime pointing out that “even as the university admits its most diverse class ever, it is making itself less accessible by balancing its budget on the backs of those least able to afford it.” With students going back to campus this coming fall, it’s hard to imagine the movement won’t grow exponentially, as it has in the past.
As a Democratic politician, young voters represent a critical constituency for Governor Newsom. He would be wise to heed their warning.
Taylor Clark believes public universities should be publicly funded and the Board of Regents shouldn’t be price-gouging students.