University of California regents voted Thursday to increase tuition for nonresident students at a time of surging enrollment and constrained state funding.
They approved the increase by a 12-3 vote despite eloquent pleas from numerous students, including those from California.
To try to soften the blow, regents promised to rescind the increase if they managed to successfully lobby the Legislature for more money. They also unanimously voted to ask the state to restore financial aid for needy nonresident students, a benefit eliminated in 2016.
The 3.5% increase would boost the supplemental tuition that nonresident students pay by $978 — from $28,014 to $28,992 for the 2018-19 school year. If regents end up raising the base tuition — which is what in-state students pay — nonresidents would have to absorb that increase, too.
UC officials say the $35 million they expect to raise from the increase will help reduce class sizes and support more academic support and counseling.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, an ex-officio regent who is running for governor, wanted Thursday's vote to be delayed while lobbying efforts to get more money from the state continued.
"Once again, we're letting them off the hook by making a decision prematurely," Newsom said.
He voted against the increase, as did regents John A. Pérez and Paul Monge.
But UC President Janet Napolitano said the notion that the Legislature would provide more money for nonresident students was "illusory."
"Reality has to intrude here," she said.
Napolitano urged regents to approve the increase, with admissions decisions coming later this month. She said families need to know what their college costs will be and campuses need to know whether they can count on the revenue.
After the January regents meeting, UC students, faculty, administrators, alumni and regents launched a unified push to lobby the Legislature for an additional $140 million this year. They did so in part to bring in the $70 million needed to avoid a proposed 2.7% tuition increase for California students, and regents held off voting on that increase until May in hopes of success. The rest of the money would be used to ease overcrowding, repair aging facilities and enroll more California students.
But UC budget officials, in a presentation after the tuition vote, said billions of dollars more are needed for new classrooms, dorms and labs, deferred maintenance, salary increases and the hiring of more faculty to lower class sizes, as well as to cover escalating pension and health costs. UC spending per student has dropped by 31% since 2000 because state funding has not risen to fully cover the additional 90,000 students enrolled since then.
The regents, meeting at UCLA, acknowledged that they needed to find longer-term solutions to their budget woes — and some suggested they should do so in a cost-saving, high-tech way that would radically reshape the UC experience.
Regents Peter Guber and Lark Park asked Thursday whether UC could afford to stick with the age-old model of educating students in campus buildings and housing them in campus dorms.
"I don't know that five years at a college to finish a college degree has to be all five years in brick and mortar at the school," Guber said. "That seems a little asinine to me in the world we're living in right now."
Park said new ideas were imperative given fiscal realities.
Students, faculty and chancellors pushed back against any major replacement of face-to-face learning with online instruction. Napolitano suggested a deep dive into UC's current online education efforts at the May meeting.
Myriad financial pressures, years in the making, led to the current controversy over nonresident students. When the state cut one-third of the UC system's funding after the 2008 recession, campuses scrambled to make up the lost revenue by recruiting higher-paying out-of-state and international students.
From fall 2009 to fall 2017, the number of nonresident undergraduates nearly quadrupled, to 37,217 from 9,552, while the number of Californians rose from 167,900 to 179,530, according to UC data.
The growing number of nonresidents sparked a political backlash. Legislators ordered a state audit — which contended that UC officials had harmed California students by enrolling so many from out of state — and then directed UC officials to eliminate financial aid for nonresident students and place a cap on their numbers.
Just before the vote Thursday, regents Park and Sherry Lansing added the amendments to lobby for more money to rescind the tuition increase and seek state approval to reinstate their eligibility for financial aid. During public comments, they had heard nonresident students' stories of hardship.
Ashraf Beshay, a fifth-year UCLA biology student from Egypt, told regents that an economic collapse in his country had devalued its currency, effectively sending the cost of his UC education soaring from $50,000 to $120,000.
The higher costs have forced him to go to school part time, he said, and his father recently sold his car to pay his education bills.
Other students, from China, said they had to overload their schedules to graduate in three years to save money.
"Don't treat us as ATM machines," one said.
6:55 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from regents and information about UC finances.
12:40 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from students.