University of California regents on Thursday approved the first cut in tuition in nearly two decades and decided again to take on the dicey issue of how many nonresident students should be enrolled as they wrapped up a two-day meeting in San Francisco.
Regents approved a $60 decrease in tuition — the result of eliminating a surcharge added in 2007 to pay for legal bills. The action lowered base tuition and fees to $12,570 annually.
Regent Sherry Lansing said it was one of the most exciting votes she has ever taken after so many painful years of raising tuition.
“I so enthusiastically endorse this budget, she said. “I hope and I pray it’s the first of a new trend.”
UC was headed for a tuition hike this year but students, regents, faculty, alumni and staff staved it off with a successful lobbying effort for more state funding. Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators ultimately increased UC’s funding by nearly $347 million this year. But the governor, citing the need for fiscal prudence, insisted that two-thirds of the money be provided as temporary, one-time allocations rather than permanent funding.
UC President Janet Napolitano thanked state leaders and UC advocates for their efforts to boost funding but said more permanent support was needed.
“The university … needs ongoing support to effectively tackle challenges such as enrollment growth, and to sustain financial aid programs, academic quality, and the cutting-edge research that propels California’s economy,” Napolitano told regents this week. “Long-term accessibility, affordability and academic quality require a long-term investment.”
But amid cheers over the tuition cut, the regents are now grappling with the sticky question of how many nonresident students should be admitted to UC.
The proportion of nonresident students has swelled from 5.2% in 2008 to 17.2% of the system’s 217,000 undergraduates last year. Faced with political backlash — and a scathing state audit that accused them of favoring nonresidents — UC regents phased out their financial aid, capped their enrollment and this year raised their tuition.
But regents plan to reopen the question of nonresident students this year. Are there too many? Are they too concentrated at too few campuses? Are they enhancing or diluting economic, racial and ethnic diversity?
The issue is fraught with emotion, political sensitivities and conflicting ideas — all of which were evident at an academic affairs committee meeting this week.
“The presence of international students is critical to the life of any university,” said Regent Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who heads the California Community College system. “We do need to protect the interest of California students at a time when there’s huge demand.”
Regent Gareth Elliott questioned the diversity of nonresidents, noting that two-thirds of UC’s international students come from China. Regent John A. Pérez asked how to better distribute nonresidents across campuses so all students can benefit from them.
Nonresidents make up nearly a quarter of undergraduates at UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego but just 2.7% at UC Riverside. Last year, regents voted for the first time to cap their enrollment to 18% at Davis, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Riverside and Merced and allow Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego and Irvine to keep but not increase their higher percentage.
Board Chairman George Kieffer said he had mixed feelings about the issue — wanting to place a priority on Californians without shutting out out-of-state and international students.
“I sort of hear this echo of ‘Make America First’ … just hold up, close out and nobody else comes in,” he said.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block told regents that nonresidents not only pay for more Californians with their higher out-of-state tuition but also enrich learning for local students. Block, for instance, related his own undergraduate experience with a libertarian roommate from Montana who challenged his liberal ideas.
Rigel Robinson, a Missouri native who graduated from UC Berkeley this year after making a mark as a student leader, said California gave him myriad gifts which he wants to repay in public service.
“I found my future. I found belonging. I found a sense of meaning,” said Robinson, who is now a candidate for the Berkeley City Council.
The proposed $8.7-billion budget for 2018-19 includes money to add 2,000 California undergraduates and 500 graduate students this fall. It also provides $111 million for pay hikes and increases of $35 million to repair and maintain aging facilities, $15.5 million for financial aid, $4.7 million for mental health services, and contributions to the UC retirement plan and health benefits.
Caroline Siegel Singh, a UC San Diego student and UC Student Assn. board member who spoke in favor of the tuition decrease, asked regents to continue to include students as partners in the fight for funding and other key university issues.
“What we saw this year was that when students do have a voice, we feel empowered and we will work on behalf and the betterment of the university system as well as our peers,” she told regents.
4:55 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details and comments.
This article was originally published at 11:45 a.m.