The University of California could increase tuition for students, but would do so only for each incoming class and would hold those costs flat for up to six years, under a plan presented Thursday.
The plan, unveiled at the UC regents meeting in San Francisco, would freeze tuition during the college careers of incoming freshmen and transfer students in an effort to prevent the double-digit increases that shocked families after the 2008 recession. The plan also would provide more support for needy students, since one-third of every tuition dollar goes into the university’s financial aid pool.
“It’s very, very promising,” said Nathan Brostrom, the UC system’s chief financial officer.
But the Board of Regents raised myriad questions about the concept, which still needs to be shaped into a concrete proposal before returning for a vote, possibly later this year. UC officials did not specify a timeline for the plan.
A major wild card is whether Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature would provide the UC system with annual funding increases to cover inflation. If, for instance, they slash funding again when the next recession hits, UC could be hard-pressed to honor a six-year freeze on tuition.
Without Sacramento’s buy-in, “this all falls apart,” said Regent Cecilia Estolano, the board’s vice chair.
The University System of Georgia, for example, was compelled to drop a similar program in 2009 after three years because of reduced state funding. Several other public universities continue to use the model, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Arizona.
In assessing the effect on students, several UC regents said any plan should consider not only tuition, but also the total cost of attendance, which includes increasingly high-priced housing. Financial aid covers tuition for more than half of all UC undergraduates, but amounts to less than 40% of the total annual cost of $32,400 for students who live off campus.
Several regents also called for a broader discussion about UC funding strategies, saying university officials should consider all sources of revenue in crafting a plan to revamp tuition.
Regent Peter Guber fretted that a six-year tuition freeze could create a potential incentive for students to take their time to graduate, while Student Regent Hayley Weddle voiced concerns about the effect of any plan on low-income and underrepresented minority students.
The UC Student Assn. opposes any tuition increase, saying UC should lobby for more state funding instead. But it does not plan to take any position until a concrete plan is crafted.
“I hope to see a … tuition model that isn’t just a repackaging of annual tuition hikes,” said Caroline Siegel Singh, president of the student group. “Affordability and access should be key concerns of the board.”
Aidan Arasasingham, a third-year student in global studies at UCLA, told regents that he was “haunted by the memories of the extreme tuition increases” at campuses a decade ago and saw the appeal of a plan that would freeze costs for each class following one initial tuition hike. But he urged the regents to “think deeply” to make sure that any revenue raised would benefit students, not the bureaucracy.
UC President Janet Napolitano said she would take all comments under consideration as a committee fashions a more complete proposal to bring to regents, possibly in September.
“We obviously have a lot of work to do,” she said. “More to come.”
In other matters, regents approved a $942-million budget for the UC Office of the President for 2019-20, examined student mental health needs, and discussed a systemwide audit on admissions practices in the wake of the national college admissions scandal.
UC officials also presented data on student loan debt, which showed that African American, Latino and Native American students took on more debt than their peers. The average loan balance for black students at graduation is $22,000, for instance, compared to $18,000 for whites and Asian Americans.
One reason for the disparity, regents were told, is that, on average, underrepresented minorities take longer to graduate.