Senate Bill Seeks To Buy Out Tuition Increase

On the heels of the recent decision by the UC Regents to increase tuition, state Senate Democrats introduced a bill last Tuesday that lays out a funding model that would not only eliminate the 5 percent tuition hike for the 2015-2016 school year but also invest funding in other sectors of California higher education as well.

Spearheaded by Kevin De Leon, who was recently appointed president pro tempore of the state Senate, SB 15 seeks to provide a short-term solution, to the tune of an $75 million from general funds, to a trend of state disinvestment from higher education budgets. According to Senator Mark Leno, chair of the budget committee, for the past 32 years the UC’s appropriation of state general funds has dropped from 5 percent to 2.5 percent, translating to a university system that has had to increasingly seek funding from other sources such as tuition. State funding was once 87 percent of the UC’s budget. It has since dropped to 38 percent.

Previously, Nathan Brostrom, the UC’s chief financial officer, has said that in order to buy out the entire 5 percent increase, the state would have to double its current contribution of $120 million to the university system’s 2015-2016 budget. Closing the gap between the additional general funds and the $120 million in order to wholly eliminate the tuition increase would be revenue from a proposed increase to the tuition of students from out of state as well as repurposing of funds from the Middle Class Scholarship Act.

The act, engineered by former state Assembly John A. Peréz, who was recently appointed as a regent by Governor Jerry Brown, currently provides for students whose families make up to $150,000 and are consequently ineligible for other forms of financial aid like  scholarships to help with college costs. Almost one-third of the money that will fund De Leon’s bill will come from the money already allocated for the middle class scholarship.

Although the diversion of funds from the scholarship act will help students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, it does leave out one subset of students: those not from California.

The bill also seeks to increase out-of-state tuition by 17 percent, resulting in a projected additional $82 million. For Sanaa Khan, ASUCI executive vice president, this exclusion of out-of-state students in the funding model was one of the drawbacks of the senate’s funding proposal. Khan said that even though it would eliminate the tuition increase, not considering the impact the bill would have on out-of-state students is problematic.

In general, she reacted to the bill’s announcement with cautious excitement.  On one hand, the bill represents a first step from the state in terms of taking seriously students’ demands for the financial reinvestment in higher education. However, Khan remains wary that politicians are using high-profile, yet short-term, fixes that appear to have students’ best interests in mind in order to generate political capital for themselves.

The most frustrating aspect about the bill for Khan is that while the state and regents are attempting to take a long-term look at tuition policy, solutions are beholden to yearly budget cycles. Students are then subject to turbulent fiscal landscapes that are fraught with short-term solutions. These landscapes are detrimental to student organizers, however, as they also must, but are unable to, consider long-term consequences, Khan said. 

“I feel a great amount of uncertainty right now in terms of what the UC will be,” said Khan, who said a lack of a stable funding structure for the UC means its priorities cannot be set. Amidst great uncertainty, however, Khan sees a flicker of hope. “Because the future is so uncertain right now, it’s exactly the right time for students to put forth their own ideas regarding the direction of the UC.”

Currently, the bill’s text does not include a provision to continue a buyout of the UC’s increased tuition beyond the 2015-2016 year.