University of California tuition hikes provoke concern, outrage

Jonathan Baer, Staff Writer

As public universities all across the nation begin classes for the 2011-12 school year, the University of California system faces financial challenges of epic proportions.

On July 27, in a letter addressed to UC students and their parents, Mark Yudof, president of the University of California, made the system’s predicament clear.

“In addition to an outright reduction of $650 million,” wrote Yudof, “the budget failed to provide funding for an additional $350 million in mandatory cost increases over which the University has no control, thus creating a total shortfall in state funds of $1 billion.”

At a time when many families across California are struggling financially, UC tuition has increased 18 percent for the current school to $12,192 for California residents. The Board of Regents is projected to raise tuition anywhere from eight percent to 16 percent annually through 2015. This could bring the 2015 tuition, not including room and board, to $21,654.  By contrast, the tuition plus room and board at private four-year colleges averages $27,293, according to the College Board.

Urban students already at UC schools are chafing at the higher cost. “It’s frustrating when you go into a school, expecting to have a certain tuition, and then you know that in the next four years it is going to be much higher than what it is when you start out,” said Amrit Khalsa (’10), now a sophomore at UC San Diego.

The problem is more than just the financial difficulty of paying a higher tuition: UC students have no way of knowing how the tuition fees will evolve over the next four years.

“The uncertainty of the UCs definitely impacts the Urban students,” said Susan Lee, Urban’s director of college counseling. “The tuition is still lower than a lot of comparable colleges, so it’s still a better deal. (But) the uncertainty of the budget and how much money the UCs are going to get from the state makes it hard to know how that is going to cut into the integrity of the education at the UCs.”

Students feeling the effects of these budget cuts have staged numerous protests across California in recent weeks.

“(At UC San Diego) there has been a few rallies and even more Facebook groups,” said Khalsa. “One big difference this year (over) last year is we have two libraries on campus and one of them is being shutdown.”

Making matters worse, the budget cuts compromise the UCs extensive resources, which have always made UC universities top tier schools. Just recently, UC Berkeley came very close to cutting its baseball, men and women’s gymnastics, and women’s lacrosse teams.

“I would love to have more money coming towards something the students can actually see,” said Khalsa. “I feel like, from what I’ve heard, there are a few people in really high up positions getting six-figure salaries that don’t necessarily need them.”

For instance, according to UC Davis’ Public Salary Database, UC Davis Medial Center CEO Ann Madden Rice received a $259,000 raise in September, bringing her annual salary to $960,000.

The University of California’s financial problems are a consequence of larger state budget issues.  In this environment, the Board of Regents and UC administrators are under intense pressure to find revenue to balance the budget. Currently, UC collects 60 percent less state funding per student than it did in 1990.

“I want to emphasize that The Regents and I made this painful decision only after the campuses and the Office of the President had absorbed as many cuts as possible without irreparably damaging the quality of the system,” wrote Yudof.

Even with these pressures, many feel that the UC administrative hierarchy and the Regents have handled the situation poorly.

“What gets frustrating is that it doesn’t feel like all the options are exhausted and if they have been, the university system doesn’t communicate that well,” said Mary Murphy, an Urban science teacher and graduate of UC Davis. “The Board of Regents or UC doesn’t make a good public campaign as to ‘here’s everything we’ve tried, and this is why we have to do the increase.’ It sort of feels like the fee increases come along with bonuses that people are receiving.  They need to be clearer on how they are approaching it, because how can they not predict there is going to be this huge outcry?  That to me seems irresponsible.”

Even though tuition is dramatically increasing, UC is still a bargain compared to other elite schools in the United States.  Yet, as more and more students with middle- and low-income backgrounds struggle to afford annual tuition, its reputation could slip away.

“I think it’s a very sad and scary situation,” said Lee.  “California has always been a model for public education and we’ve always had the best (college level) public education in the country or even the world.”