California’s public universities aren’t all that public. At least, that’s what the University of California Board of Regents would have us think.
The regents voted Thursday to raise nonresident tuition by 3.5 percent, or $978, for the next academic year. The vote followed pleas from UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ for the regents to cement the 2018-2019 tuition levels to help the campus budget its expenditures. The University initially considered raising resident and nonresident tuition in January, but decided to delay the vote by two months and only pass the latter, after Gov. Jerry Brown insisted it cut costs and not raise fees for California students.
It’s not surprising the regents opted to increase tuition for nonresident students. Out-of-state students’ families do not pay California taxes and their supplemental tuition subsidizes residents’ fees – the 2017-2018 tuition fees for in-state students, for example, are $13,900, but a whopping $40,644 for nonresident students.
But Thursday’s vote was more than just a knee-jerk reaction by regents to keep the University system afloat; it’s indicative of administrators losing sight of what it means to be a public university. Year after year, students protest rising tuition while politicians in Sacramento holler at the University to cut costs. And each year, the regents reluctantly raise tuition while speaking of using private funding to make up missing funds from the state government.
The result: The nation’s premier public university system is more expensive and privatized than ever.
Securing more funds from the state government would be a start. But more pressing is the need for University administrators to ask themselves: Is the UC the diverse and accessible educational institution it paints itself to be?
Placing the burden of rising costs on the shoulders of nonresidents, who already pay higher tuition, threatens the University’s diversity. The reliance on nonresident students as the cash cows for resident students limits who can afford to attend UC campuses. We can expect fewer nonresident students to commit to schools like UCLA and incoming students to come from higher socioeconomic backgrounds because of the recent tuition hikes and the fact that the UC does not provide financial aid to out-of-state students.
At the same time, UC campuses have increasingly turned to private donors to fund the campuses’ capital projects. UCLA’s most recent donors donated funds to open up a new engineering building, expand the school of management and construct a hotel-conference center. Everything from parking lots to graduate student gyms have fallen victim to these projects.
Meanwhile, issues such as student scholarship funding have seen relatively sparse support – UCLA only raised, as of December, $398 million for student support funding as part of its Centennial Campaign. Housing and food security programs have seen even less donor support. And that’s to be expected: Philanthropists are more inclined to have their names slapped onto buildings than have their money used for less aesthetic, yet more essential, student needs.
These are ramifications the regents need to be cognizant of. Relying on nonresident supplemental tuition and donor funds as stopgap measures threatens the notion of accessibility the UC was built on.
This isn’t to say the state government isn’t at fault. Its chronic underfunding of California’s universities plays a huge role in the UC’s financial shakiness and decreasing affordability. But the regents have been employing half-baked strategies when negotiating with the state government for more funding. On one hand, they’re willing to hike nonresident supplemental tuition and turn to donors, while on the other they are desperately trying to justify their need for more state funds – a seemingly contradictory mindset.
The regents need to commit to one course of action. They lost their leverage when they passed the 3.5 percent hike Thursday because they demonstrated that if denied state funding, the UC could get its funding from elsewhere. And by perpetuating that image, the regents are only setting up the UC to fall into an annual budgetary crisis.
Being a public university means opening the doors to an inclusive and diverse education, not raising the price tag on those from outside the state or auctioning it off to those with money to spare.
The UC would do well to remember that maxim. Otherwise, it will only alienate the very students it was built to serve.