A key UC regents committee on Wednesday moved to raise tuition as much as 5% in each of the next five years after a debate that pitted the state's most powerful political leaders against administrators of the system.
The full board of regents is expected Thursday to support the controversial increase, which would end a three-year freeze on tuition and possibly increase it by a cumulative 28% by 2019. UC officials promised to modify or eliminate the rise if more state funding arrives by spring.
Gov. Jerry Brown argued strongly against the tuition increase and instead proposed an in-depth study of such basic educational and cost issues as moving more students toward graduation in three years, offering more online courses and consolidating academic programs duplicated across UC campuses. He and UC student regent Sadia Saifuddin cast the two dissenting votes on the long-range-planning committee; seven regents approved it.
"Let's look at alternative pathways, alternative designs," said Brown, who insisted that the UC model of education should not try to match salaries and benefits of Ivy League colleges or private industry.
"This is not Wall Street. This is the University of California, and we ought to be different," he said.
UC system President Janet Napolitano said she was open to such a study but said the action on the tuition increase could not wait. Under her plan, she would be authorized to decide in the spring a specific tuition increase for the 2015-16 school year, depending on state funding; 5% would be the worst-case scenario.
For undergraduates who are California residents, tuition next year could rise to as high as $12,804, not including room, board and books. By the 2019-20 school year, that could increase to $15,564 if state funding does not rise more than anticipated.
Students demonstrated outside the meeting at UC San Francisco on Wednesday morning. Some were involved in a tussle with police; there was one arrest.
UC officials say a third of all the new revenue would go toward financial aid; half of UC students already do not pay tuition because of federal, state and other aid, and the plan aims to maintain and possibly broaden that, administrators said.
UC officials say the 10-campus university needs more money to help cover rising costs of retirement benefits, fund recent employee pay increases, hire more faculty and raise the number of California undergraduates by 5,000 over five years from the current 166,250.
The 4% increase in state general revenues and flat tuition that Brown has proposed for each of the next two years is not enough, UC officials said.
Without extra money, UC is threatening to reduce enrollment of state residents and boost the already controversially high number of out-of-state students for the much higher tuition they pay.
"Accessibility, affordability and academic excellence — these are the university's constant stars," Napolitano said. "And sound stewardship demands that we make the necessary choices to keep UC on a course true to the path these stars provide. This plan, in my view, does just that."
A hint of compromise was offered by Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins, who like Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, is a regent and is opposed to the tuition hike. Atkins said she would work hard to boost state funding for UC so tuition for Californians can be moderated.
"I'm optimistic," Atkins said after the meeting. "This isn't the end of discussion. Unfortunately, I wish we had started the discussion in a different way." Among other things, she proposed sharply increasing tuition for students from abroad and other states.
Brown, who is a UC Berkeley graduate, expressed affection for UC and appreciation for how its inventions help fuel the state's economy. He also acknowledged the deep savings UC has produced in recent years by consolidating services and by other steps.
But he urged more innovative steps "to reduce the cost structure while increasing access and quality," including ways to simplify transfer students' path to UC graduation and add more online classes. He said that in January he would formally propose such a study, echoing a 2010 "future" commission that he suggested UC mainly ignored.
In an impassioned speech, Saifuddin said political and university leaders shared the blame for the situation and predicted many students would have trouble paying for rent, food and books if tuition rises.
"Students are always taken hostage. Students always have to pay the price of economic mismanagement by the [regents] board and the state," she said. With the governor a few feet away, Saifuddin sharply rebutted Brown's ideas about online classes and a three-year degree. "We want a four-year university. We want to talk to our professors. We want to learn in real time," she said.
She and other regents expressed frustration about Proposition 30, the tax increases voters approved two years ago at the urging of the governor. UC students and faculty worked hard for the passage under the presumption that higher education would receive much more funding. "Sadly, that has not happened, and I am really, really dismayed by this," said Regent Sherry Lansing.
Including various campus charges, room, board and books, the annual cost of a UC education now can total more than $30,000 for California residents. Students from other states and countries pay about $23,000 on top of that and they could face a 5% increase in both parts of their bill under the Napolitano plan. Graduate and professional school students will pay more as well.
Earlier in the morning, about 200 noisy student protesters tried to block regents and other officials from entering, leading to some pushing matches with police.
Former UC Santa Cruz chancellor Karl Pister, 89, suffered a cut on his hand when he was knocked down while getting through the crowd, he said.
A 21-year-old male UC Berkeley student was arrested on suspicion of felony vandalism and inciting a riot after demonstrators forced their way past metal barricades and a large glass door was shattered, authorities said.
UC Santa Cruz junior William Mistler, a chemistry major from Sacramento, was one of many protesters from various campuses who came to the meeting. He said he receives some financial aid but also must take out substantial loans.
He said he is worried about future generations as well: "If it keeps going like this, by the time I have kids, they are not going to be able to afford an education," he said.