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Editorial: Senate’s funding proposal places burden on UC students

By Editorial Board

Dec. 8, 2014 1:39 a.m.

State Senate Democrats say they “stand with California’s students and their families” with their new proposal for funding the University of California, a plan that they say will improve access and affordability for students.

But this is an outright lie.

The Senate Democrats’ proposal would increase nonresident tuition by 17 percent while keeping in-state tuition flat. It would also cut the Middle Class Scholarship program, allocating its funds to the UC instead.

The situation is a tedious recurrence of politics as usual: State legislators continue to evade the responsibility of funding the UC, which needs substantially higher levels of state support to sustain its mission of public service.

They mask the state’s drastic divestment from its higher education systems, and they masquerade as advocates of students, when really, they have failed the UC and its students repeatedly.

This new plan is no different, a scheme that not only forces the University to rely on private dollars, but also shifts the burden of state higher education costs onto students while cutting financial aid.

Although the proposal would increase state funding for the UC by $156 million – $37 million more than what Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to offer – it fails to reverse the trend of drastic state cuts. The plan shuffles money that would have otherwise gone directly into students’ pockets through the Middle Class Scholarship, ending the program only one year after it began.

About 19,000 students across the UC receive awards from the Middle Class Scholarship. The scholarship gives an average of $1,100 to middle-income students from California whose families make between $80,000 to $150,000 and have less than 40 percent of their tuition covered by other financial aid.

These middle-income students are typically not eligible for federal and state grants that prioritize lower-income students to help cover tuition. Unable to pay their full tuition out of pocket, many students are forced to take out loans at a time when student tuition and debt levels are at a historic high.

Further still, the Senate Democrats’ plan is strategic in nature – it pits in-state students against out-of-state students with disingenuous rhetoric about prioritizing Californian residents, and allows the state to get out of paying its fair share. The plan is designed to generate additional revenue through students with insidious pretenses about promoting access and affordability by mandating the UC to enroll 5,000 additional students on top of hiking out-of-state fees.

Simply put, the proposal is a politically expedient way of coercing the UC to depend more heavily on funding itself through higher tuition rather than overdue reinvestment from the state. Students have already funded the majority of UC expenditures, surpassing state contributions, since 2011.

The senators’ request for the University to enroll and provide UC-quality education to 5,000 additional students is particularly baffling once you consider that the state’s per-student contribution to education has declined by nearly half in the last 20 years.

With this context in mind, asking students – any students – to shoulder more of the load in financing the UC threatens the public nature of our state’s universities. If the state and the UC continue to strong-arm students to sidestep the issue of public funding, privatization is soon to be a frightening reality.

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