California College System Faces Disturbing Tuition Hike

When we last checked in on possible tuition increases for the University of California system, California Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders were still aggressively negotiating with UC President Janet Napolitano to avoid a tuition increase that would see costs potentially rise for students by five percent a year over the next five years.

Unfortunately, the latest news out of Sacramento isn’t hopeful.

By way of background, the average student at a University of California school today will pay about three times as much as her equivalent did in 1992, despite a tuition freeze that has been in effect for three years. Napolitano is claiming that the system needs an additional $220 million in state funding to meet the system’s obligations, and without that they will be forced to increase tuition. Gov. Brown and the legislature aren’t prepared to give that much, so the UC Regents upped the ante this past November by approving the proposed tuition increase. That increase isn’t the final word: it can easily be rescinded if Napolitano, the Brown administration, and the California legislature come to an agreement on funding. Right now, though, that isn’t looking likely.

A game of chicken.

As mentioned, Napolitano wants $220 million in additional funding. Brown, however, is only prepared to give $120 million—the same 4 percent increase the system has received the past few years—but will only do that if the UC Regents agree to not increase tuition. If the UC Regents choose to increase tuition, Brown will push to rescind his administration's planned funding increase. That would put UC system in an even deeper hole.

In short, Brown and Napolitano seem to be playing a game of chicken on the railroad tracks, but it’s the system’s students who are face-to-face with the oncoming train. And negotiations don’t seem to be progressing very well. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Napolitano has not had much progress to report:

“This will be a brief update because we’re still in the midst of our work together,” Napolitano said, noting that even though she and Brown have met just twice, their staffs have met with each other, visited campuses, and heard testimony from experts in curriculum and university finance. “All we want to is to make sure we do what’s right for the university."

While student protests have focused their ire on the UC Regents for voting for tuition increases, what Brown is asking the UC system to do seems equally austere. Brown’s cost-cutting ideas include vague suggestions about increasing reliance on community colleges and the less competitive California State University System, as well as having computers take over the role of counselors. Napolitano, meanwhile is saying that both of these proposals will not achieve the results that Brown expects or wants.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Napolitano and Brown will meet again in April. And despite the seeming lack of progress, Brown claims that he is enjoying the “pure intellectual pleasure” of his attempt to spend less money than the University system wants. But the experience is probably a little more stressful for the students who stand to lose much more than the shirts off their backs if the two sides can’t figure something out in the next few months.