California voters overwhelmingly oppose a tuition increase at University of California campuses, even if that forces the colleges to cut spending or accept more out-of-state students who pay higher fees, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.
In addition, they say that California has done a poor job of making a college education affordable.
Those polled support Gov. Jerry Brown's call for the UC system to use its resources more efficiently over pleas by University of California President Janet Napolitano for additional state funding, which she argues is necessary to ensure its continued quality.
The clash between Brown and Napolitano has pushed UC finances and state budget considerations to the forefront in Sacramento. State lawmakers, vowing to fight a tuition hike, are considering ways to increase funding for the public colleges, while Brown and Napolitano meet one-on-one to find a solution.
The UC Regents voted in November to increase tuition by as much as 28% over the next five years unless the state gives more money to the 10 campuses.
The governor's proposal for the next state budget would increase UC funding by $120 million — but only if tuition remains frozen for a fourth consecutive year. Napolitano said UC needs $100 million beyond that to help pay for pensions, health benefits, salaries and other escalating costs.
Among those surveyed, 57% favored the governor's approach, compared to 32% who favored increasing state funds or raising student tuition. Support for Brown's view was consistent across all political, racial and economic groups.
"They're really not interested in tuition hikes or increased spending. They want to find cuts, given that they are so concerned about the cost of college, said David Kanevsky of American Viewpoint, a Republican polling firm that helped conduct the bipartisan survey.
Chelsea Braden of Torrance, who took part in the opinion poll, said she once dreamed of going to a prestigious University of California medical school, but the price tag for even a four-year college degree was out of reach.
"I think I would have gone a lot farther if it wasn't so expensive. I think a lot of people would," said Braden, 23, who attended a private trade school and is now a certified surgical technician.
The UC Board of Regents' move toward higher tuition followed years of dwindling budgets for higher education in California, especially when state revenue fell precipitously during the recession. UC received $2.64 billion from the state's general fund in the current budget year, $460 million less than seven years ago.
To help defray those losses, some UC campuses began accepting more out-of-state students — who pay about $23,000 annually on top of the in-state tuition of $12,192.
The percentage of freshmen on UC campuses who are from outside the state has risen from 6% in 2009 to an unprecedented 20% this year, according to UC figures. Out-of-state students are 30.1% of freshmen at UCLA.
That trend has raised the ire of California legislators, including state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), who demanded in November that the UC system boost out-of-state tuition rates even higher to help more California students attend.
In the poll, 53% of voters said they would be willing to have fewer slots for in-state students at the universities if that would help avoid a tuition hike for Californians, compared to 31% who favored a possible tuition increase to help maximize places for in-state students.
"The cost of college is such a burden for so many people right now that they are wiling to sacrifice some of the … opportunity for in-state students just to lower the costs," said Drew Lieberman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, the Democratic half of the polling team.
Two-thirds of respondents rated California poorly on college affordability.
Joseph Russell of Indio, a former Army recruiter who is now a grocery store manager, said California's public colleges should do everything possible to make higher education less costly for state residents — even if that means cashing in with higher paying, out-of-state students.
"I feel that the education system is important, and it's not very affordable," said Russell, 42, who took part in the poll.
Dan Schnur, head of USC's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, said people clearly believe that UC campuses can operate more efficiently and that tuition costs already are too high. Allowing more out-of-state students into the universities to defray costs also may not be as unpopular with voters as some state lawmakers believe, Schnur said.
"Voters intuitively like it when other people pay for things," Schnur said.
The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times poll canvassed 1,505 registered state voters by telephone from Feb. 18 through 24. The margin of error overall is 2.7 percentage points, higher for subgroups.