This year marks the 150th anniversary of the University of California system. When the UC was first established, educational accessibility was considered one of its core tenets. However, since 1990, the state funding per UC student has plummeted from $19,100 to about $7,160. Meanwhile, tuition and fees have more than tripled over the last 15 years. This increase has been particularly egregious for nonresident students, who are now expected to pay upwards of $62,000 per year to receive an education at UCLA. To put it into context, the median household income in the United States is less than $58,000.
An affordable college education is a thing of the past at the UC.
The UC Board of Regents, the overseeing body of the University, will decide next year’s tuition fees next week on our very campus. The regents will be discussing raising nonresident tuition by 3.5 percent. In May, they will vote on a resident tuition increase of 2.5 percent.
Time and time again, students have rallied to challenge tuition hikes, and this time is no exception. It is incumbent on regents to vote on these changes while keeping in mind the financial conditions of UC students who will carry the extra burden.
Conversations of this nature have obviously taken place in the past. Our predecessors have organized movements that opposed tuition increases for decades, and today we as students join their legacy. While it is certainly important to raise funds to elevate an institution that serves nearly 240,000 students, as students who live on campus grounds, we have a deeper insight into the effects these tuition raises have on our communities.
I’ve always wondered what my stance would be on international students if I had gone to college back home in my country of Egypt. Would I support their protests against tuition hikes? After all, they’ve made the decision to come to my country for an education. That perspective is way too simplistic, however. I would not want to go to a university the world’s most promising students cannot afford to attend; it is simply not in my best interest – financially or morally. To recognize that these students already pay more than twice the amount of my fees would make me more emboldened to support their protest.
The nonresident community is integral to the UC, not just for the great sums of money nonresidents provide to the University, but also because of its inspirational stories and experiences that intricately help design the very fabric of our institution. Nonresident students’ promise, as individuals who represent the cream of the crop from the entire world, adds value and builds the UC’s reputation in a way that cannot be measured by tuition or state funding. They make the UC a global brand, further inviting financial investments, promising applicants and creating worldwide impact to further some of the greatest endeavors our world has embarked on.
It is a harmful misconception to think all these individuals come from wealthy families and are able to afford increases in their tuition. Some international students just manage to gather their tuition funds from relatives, loans and on-campus jobs to afford a UC degree. After all, the most common question asked at student-led international student orientations was “How do I get a job?” To add to that, many international students come to the UC and realize they are not eligible for most of the financial support opportunities available such as scholarships, emergency loans and the work study program. We clearly are not the cash cows state politicians portray us to be.
The continued increase of tuition on nonresidents does not simply change affordability; it also plays into competition over the world’s brightest minds. Uninformed conversations regarding international and out-of-state students, including the recent enrollment caps on international and nonresident students at the UC, reflect an unhealthy and unproductive sense of hostility and carelessness toward the community.
Here is the reality: Many international students I know enroll in more than 20 units per quarter to graduate in three years. Others I know move off campus if they can’t afford the unreasonably exorbitant cost of housing with no financial aid. And many more identify with the 42 percent of UC students who skip meals and face food insecurity. It should not come as a surprise that we’re vulnerable humans too.
This is why we protest. This is why we say no to tuition hikes, especially after the hike just last year. While the regents may split the tuition hike decision into two votes to isolate international students who are particularly vulnerable to visas being revoked, we will not forsake our nonresidents. Our fight is one and will remain one: affordability for all.
This is the vision we hope that the UC will champion in its next 150 years. We hope students, faculty and staff will join us.
Beshay is the president of the International Student Leadership Coalition.