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UC Regents Consider A Multi-Year Tuition Hike

The Geisel Library, one of UCSD's most prominent buildings, in an undated photo.
Courtesy of University of California, San Diego
The Geisel Library, one of UCSD's most prominent buildings, in an undated photo.
UC Regents Consider A Multi-Year Tuition Hike
University of California officials say the multi-year proposal for tuition hikes they're presenting to University of California Regents today will maintain the quality of schools like UC San Diego. But students say they're tired of paying more and getting less of an education.

A plan is being presented to University of California regents today that, if approved, could boost student tuition every year through 2016. The worst case scenario is that students could end up paying a yearly tuition of $22,000. But UC officials say predictable rate hikes will help students plan and maintain the high quality of a UC education.


Kyla Calvert KPBS Education reporter


Lynn Tierney, associate vice president of communications in the UC Office of the President

Alyssa Wing, President of Associated Students at UCSD

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: A proposal for a multiyear tuition rate hike at UC schools goes before the board of regents. And San Diego's fall theatre season features the old, the new, and the without walls. This is KPBS Midday Edition.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Thursday, September 15th. Our top story on Midday Edition, a plan is being presented to university of California regents today that if approved could boost student tuition every year through 2016. Of the worst case scenario is that students could end up paying a yearly tuition of $22,000. But UC officials say predictable rate hikes will help students plan and maintain the high quality of a UC education. Joining me now to talk about the plan under discussion is Kyla Calvert, KPBS education reporter. Kyla, welcome.

CALVERT: Thank you.


CAVANAUGH: Why do UC officials say they need this rate increase?

CALVERT: What the staff have done is draw up a four-year budget plan for the entire system. And they say that given the funding levels now, and all of the efficiencies and cost cutting that the university has already taken the steps to do, there's a $1.5 billion shortfall between where they're at and where they need to be funding wise, in order to avoid things like increasing class sizes, having a faculty hiring freeze. The kinds of things that the staff say will really hurt the quality of the system in the long run. This plan basically sets out a couple different options for filling that $1.5 billion gap. And --

CAVANAUGH: And one of those options and a tuition fee hike. ; is that right?

CALVERT: Right. Basically what the plan lays out is that -- three different scenarios. One, if state funding were to increase for the system, eight% each year, then there would be an eight% tuition increase each year. And if the state funding only increased by four% each year, then the tuition increase would be 12%. And if there were no state funding increase, that tuition increase would be 16% by each year, which by 2016 would bring the tuition alone, not fees or housing costs, to $22,000 a year. And so that's the plan that the regents are still discuss you go right now.

CAVANAUGH: That's what's being proposed today. This year is already a first for the UC system in terms of funding, isn't it?

CALVERT: It is, this is the first year that student tuition and fees are covering more of the costs of running the system than actual state contributions are. So some of the people I've spoken with said they found this to be a really unsettling development for the system. Because this is a public university system that's been a model for public university systems across the country.

CAVANAUGH: So what -- you say that they're discussing the proposal today. If the regents approve this proposal, and I know that vote is already a couple months off, what would be the next step after that?

CALVERT: Well, peaceful what the regents' conversation today sounds like is a lot of frustration venting about the legislation. I think regent Blum said today he actually has no faith in the leaders in Sacramento doing the right thing ever, basically. So pretty much across the board, regents said that they don't want to adopt this plan, they don't want to see the costs of the -- the rising costs of the system, that burden placed on the back of students. And so that's been a lot of conversation about what other funding sources they could find, this afternoon I guess UC official, SCU official, and K-12 officials at the state level are meeting to talk about how they can come together to find revenue streams for all level was education in the the state. So basically they're framing this as the plan would be a way to leverage their position with legislators to say this is what you're doing to this system by not funding us. And there was a lot of pessimism about whether -- how much leverage this plan might give them. But that's the idea.

CAVANAUGH: I understand. Well, Kyla, thank you for explain that to us. I've been speaking with Kyla Calvert, KPBS education reporter. I want to invite our listeners to join this conversation, especially if you're attending or planning to attend a UC school. How would a multi-year tuition hike affect you or your plans? You can give us a call at 1-888-895-5727. Or you can tweet your comment at KPBS midday. I'd like to welcome two new guests, Lynn Tierney is assistant vice president for communities in the university of California office of the president. She joins us from San Francisco where UC leaders are meeting today. Hello, Lynn.

TIERNEY: Hi, how are you?

CAVANAUGH: I'm very well, thank you for doing this. And Alyssa Wing is president of the associated students at UC San Diego. Alyssa, welcome.

WING: Hi, Maureen. How are you?

CAVANAUGH: Now, Lynn, UC leaders have been negotiating with the state or funding. There have been cuts over the last five years, this plan is hoping for increases of eight% or more from the state through the next four years. What kind of hope do we have that that tide is going to shift?

TIERNEY: Well, you know, it's been just a tragic disinvestment in public education in the state. And this year, we lost -- we already lost $650 million. The initial cut was five hundred million, then they went to 6 first. And we stand to lose another hundred million this year. At the same time, the spending for prisons has escalated and -- it's just a real question of priorities. So I think what we're trying to do is layout in the most black and white terms we can for the legislature, for the public, and for all of our stakeholders exactly what's at stake here. And I think the question is just pretty heavy discussion in the board room about whether or not we could expect to see any increase from the state based over where we are.

CAVANAUGH: Just to be clear, I'm sorry, Lynn, but just to be clear, the UC officials are actually proposing that if they don't get this $1.5 billion from the state, they want to see tuition rates go up for students at UC San Diego and the UC system. Now, that's pretty scary for students and prospective students listening to this that that is it actually university of California officials' proposal.

TIERNEY: That's not the proposal. I think the big -- the myth here is that that's a proposal that's going to be voted on. That's not what's being discussed today. What's being discussed today say framework for discussion with the state. It's a fame work for proceeding further to have discussions with the state about doing a long-term plan. And what they have laid out in this plan is what the result would have to be if we didn't get increases from the state if the issue was relieved by a certain percentage of the moneys were relieved by tuition increase.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Alisa wing, president of the associated students at UC San Diego. Tuition has jumped a number of times in the past few years. Has that been combined with cut-backs on campus as well.

WING: Absolutely. In my time here at UC SD, I'm fourth year, I don't remember a single year in which I haven't had a conversation or faced a tuition hike, really. On our campus, especially, we're really seeing the negative effects of what's happening. We're seeing simultaneously as our fees are increasing, we're seeing a negative return on our campus. And that really had a stark reality on our campus for us last year. Not only did I see my class offerings actually being cut and classes being canceled within my major, but we also saw a real crisis in which our core educational resources such as our libraries were being closed on our campus due to the budget crisis and really a lack of funding. So for us, the reality is very real. And we are feeling the effects, and I have friends and peers and colleagues who have been forced to drop out of campus because it's just too much.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Now, Lynn, in putting forth this proposal, whether it is to shake up legislators in the state house or an actual proposal, UC officials said that having predictable tuition increases would be better for students than what they call the "wild ride" of tuition hikes. How do you reason that?

TIERNEY: The thing is, if you think about it, even if you think about the infrastructure of San Diego, you've got beautiful bridges and roadways down there, and the waterfront that needs maintenance. In a very simple analogy, that's what we're talking about. We're talking about being able to offer professors jobs at a salary that's competitive so that they come here instead of going to Harvard or Princeton or some place else. By getting that professor here at the university of San Diego, maybe a great cancer researcher, that professor will bring with them millions of dollars of research money, and that will employ graduate students that will find a cure for maybe a blood-born cancer. That's the kind of planning that needs to be done on a long-term basis for an entrepreneur like that. We're a $20 billion entrepreneur with ten campuses, five medical centers. We're jumping up and down in a reactive mode to the vagaries of the state financing. And what we're talking about is going to the state and saying this is one of the most precious assets of this state. If you want to pull yourself out of financial difficulty, the creativity, the ingenuity, and the future lies within the campuses of UC. It lies in the biotech industries that you have in San Diego, in the silicon valley, all these companies are stocked with people who graduated from UCs. We just --


TIERNEY: We released our economic impact report today. It's massive the contribution that the UC system makes to the state. So what we're saying to the state is, invest in your infrastructure, invest in the human capital in that state so that we can attract teacher and opportunities, so you can tell a parent -- we need to tell a parent, if you're going to have a 10% tuition increase, it would be nice to know it a year out than the way it's been sprung on them over the last several years.

CAVANAUGH: I just want to get Alisa's reaction to that. Do you think that predictable tuition increases would be better for students and parents? Do you think they'd be able to save up?

WING: I'd like to say that I think no. I don't disagree with the fact that the UC system is an investment for the future, and for really, the prosperity of our future. But I have to say that no fee increase helps students ever. While you have the good intention of helping students plan forward, this plan doesn't necessarily help students prepare. It's difficult for me as I student to say, hey, I can expect 8 to 15% increase, but how am I actually going prepare for that? I can only work so many hours outside of the classroom, my family can only provide that much more extra over-time work or whatever it might be. Life savings. But I don't really think this plan is going to help students, really. I can see it as a huge detriment to the system in recruiting and retaining students especially for students who come from under privileged backgrounds.

CAVANAUGH: Alisa, do students have any ideas of how the UC system can find more funding?


WING: Right now, students are working on a campaign, in conjunction with UCSA, and some of the things that we're really looking at to combat these issues are to find solutions that target an increase in state revenue. So when we're looking at prop 13 or an oil severance tax, where we can actually lobby our state legislators and say, hey, we really do need these state tax extensions to find internal revenues.

CAVANAUGH: And Lynn, is that part of the discussion as well? Alternative funding.

TIERNEY: Yeah, absolutely. And there was just a big discussion about private and corporate funding as well. Corporations in the State of California are basically the beneficiary of our brain power. So there has been a lot of talk about outreach -- many corporations are very generous across the board. But let me just make one point. 30% of the money that comes in in tuition goes back to the students in it financial aid. Our students are 40% of them are eligible for financial aid, federal financial aid. 50% of them don't speak English as a first language, and about 45% of them are the first people in their families to go to college. This is the very last segment of the population that you want to impact with an increase in tuition. So believe me, it's a last resort. But I think it's important to tell the state that if you're going to continue to disinvest in the university of California, there's a cost. And the cost is going to be born directly by the students. We're going to do everything else we can to raise money elsewhere. Cutting back, maybe putting hiring freezes back in. All that kind of stuff. But every time you do something like that, you diminish the students' education as well. So we got to try to find a balance.

CAVANAUGH: We are out of time. I want to thank my guests. Lynn Tierney, and Alisa wing. Thank you so much, both of you, for speaking with us today.

TIERNEY: Thank you.

WING: Thank you.