UC Regents Approve Increase in Student Fees

Following the prediction set by the UC regents when the state budget was passed in February, the UC regents have voted to raise student fees by 9.3 percent for the 2009-10 school year.

The fee increase, which will amount to about $662 for resident undergraduates, was accepted in a majority 17-4 vote during the regents’ meeting at UC San Diego on May 7, according to a UC Newsroom press release dated May 7 by UC spokesman Ricardo Vázquez. The fee increase is meant to offset the state budget shortfall which is $450 million as of spring 2009. This loss is 15 percent of the over $3 billion the UC typically receives from the state, according to an online handout titled “The UC Budget: Myths and Facts.”

The report noted that fee increases were only considered as a last resort after taking such measures as freezing senior managers’ salaries, restructuring and downsizing the UC office of the president and implementing hiring freezes on campuses.

Student Regent D’Artagnan Scorza (2008-09) was among the four regents who voted “no,” along with Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, retired attorney and executive Eddie Island and Emerita of Community Education at Modesto Junior College Odessa Johnson.

“I’m talking to the people and I know the people who will be impacted by this decision,” Scorza said. “I think the university should do more to raise revenue and look for philanthropic support … [we should] not make the assumption that the state will not fund us.”

UC President Mark Yudof has assured students that though fees are rising, financial aid will cover the increases for students most in need.

“I want to reassure students that this year we will have an extraordinary amount of additional financial resources available to cover the higher fees,” Yudof said in the UC Newsroom press release. “Substantial increases in federal, state and university student aid and tax credits will ensure that 81 percent of UC undergraduates with incomes below $180,000 will have access to enough new resources to fully offset the fee increase.”

However, Scorza does not share Yudof’s belief that financial aid will cover the costs incurred by the fee increase.

“It’s not viable, especially since much of the funding for [the Blue and Gold program] is only going to be renewed on a yearly basis and the university cannot make a long-term commitment to funding [it] because we don’t know where our finances will be,” Scorza said. “That commitment is not guaranteed, and at this point nothing is guaranteed except the state is facing a deficit.”

Due to a statute that requires any undergraduate fee increase to immediately reserve one-third of its projected value for financial aid, the 9.3 percent fee increase will increase Cal Grants for UC students by $27 million and UC grants by $39 million, according to the May 7 report.

Students echoed Scorza’s frustration with the rising tuition cost.

“It’s so unreasonable,” said Rusna Jhita, a third-year biology major. “Find me one person that wants to pay that 10 percent more. We’re not exactly working at this point either, we’re still students.”

“The tuition increase is mainly unfair because originally [public] education was supposed to be free and right now we’re paying quite a bit,” said Joe Cobarrubio, a fourth-year political science major. “Even inflation rates are only going up 3.3 percent a year and tuition has been going up 9 percent a year, [which is] faster … than anything else. Basically we’re not paying the right amount. They need to be investing more in higher education.”

Currently, Scorza said, the regents are working within the financial limitations that the state has made for them instead of challenging the framework that has put limitations on the UC.

“The board of regents should say, very clearly, that we as an entity of the state believe that it is critical that our colleagues of the state, the legislators, fix this broken finance system and that we’re not going to continue to contribute to the breakdown of the finance system by adding additional burdens on families,” Scorza said. “Somebody has to stand up and force the hand of the governor or force the hand of the legislature … We are in a position to do it, but we’re not doing it. We should, but we’re not.”

Instead of raising student fees, Scorza stated the regents should take matters into their own hands.

“Some of my colleagues on the board [of regents] are billionaires. I think the regents could help to create a campaign to ask our alumni of more than one and a half million [people] to [contribute]. I mean, imagine each of them gave $10 apiece … to the campaign,” Scorza said.

“We could also ask for additional money from the government,” Scorza continued. “We could do more lobbying … many of the regents don’t necessarily go to the capital and speak to Congress about these issues. These are things that we could and should be doing.”

In its defense, the handout “The UC Budget: Myths and Facts” stated that the state of California’s per-student funding for UC education had fallen 40 percent since 1990, from $15,860 to $9,560 in 2007-08 (both figures in 2007-08 dollars).

Scorza also affirmed that the UC will see over $250 million of the Federal Stimulus Package.

“We’ll also see increased aid through the Pell Grant and other forms of financial aid. So yes, we’ll see some of that funding, but that’s insufficient to meet our needs right now. [But] we’re still voting to increase student fees and we still face cuts and financial challenges within the system,” Scorza said.

The most harrowing statement from Scorza was that these increases would barely serve to offset the current funding crisis the UC is encountering.

“Based on what we believe our needs are – and we modeled this out at our … retreat last September – if the UC were to have the total amount of funding it needs we would have to raise our fees by 50 percent … or even 100 percent would do it. We would need to literally raise [fees] 50 percent this year simply to cover the deficit and then another 50 percent so we can maintain what [the UC] has today.”

Scorza pegged the approximate level of student funds necessary to completely meet the needs of the UC to be between $15,000 and $17,000.

“The idea that fees help to solve the problem is unfounded,” Scorza said. “Fees are in many ways a Band-Aid. So until we stop and say, look, we know this is the Band-Aid, let’s fix the problem, there [will be] more increases on the horizon.”

The problem, Scorza said, is in the state’s financing system, and even if the economy improves the UC will continue to raise fees. Ultimately, the first step in fixing the UC’s budget crisis is in reprioritizing the state’s funded programs.

“The problem runs a lot deeper than the economy … [it] has to do with that we’ve over-criminalized our population – we have one of the largest prison populations in the country [whose] health care costs have eaten up the funding that would have sufficiently gone to education,” Scorza said.

“Because we have not accurately addressed these loopholes, we still face these challenges,” Scorza said. “We have not asked, as a society: What do we not need? What do we no longer need? What type of state do we want to leave for our children? And I think the regents can help push that conversation forward by taking a stand.”

Scorza stated that the dire nature of the UC’s budget crisis is sobering the regents into re-evaluating options.

“In some cases, this is the first time the regents are actually hearing about the specifics of this budget crisis and the first time that they’re understanding the importance [and] depth of the challenges we face,” Scorza said. “There’s a lot of information that’s new to them. There’s a lot that they’re learning. Now they’re beginning to look for alternatives [and] think outside the box.”

Despite the decision to raise student fees, Scorza is optimistic that, especially with the direction from Yudof, the board of regents will look for better options.

“I think President Yudof has done a tremendous job helping bring to the forefront these principles of accountability and transparency … I give him a lot of credit for this,” Scorza said.

Yudof’s leadership will help take the board in the right direction for new solutions, Scorza said.

“We have a very thoughtful board, [and] we have a very considerate group of leaders on that board who’ve said very clearly [that] we need to begin looking for alternative sources of revenue. We cannot continue to raise fees [when] we know this is not going to solve the problem. This is not going to meet the needs of the university in its entirety; we need to fix the problem,” Scorza said.