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Gov. Jerry Brown, students decry proposed UC tuition hikes

A University of California proposal to increase tuition by as much as 5% in each of the next five years drew sharp opposition Thursday from Gov. Jerry Brown, top state legislative leaders and student activists, ending three years of relative peace over the cost of public higher education in the state.

Some UC officials said they anticipated difficult negotiations through the spring with Brown, who already announced his resistance to the increases and is pushing for UC instead to reduce spending, limit executive pay raises and offer more online classes.

UC administrators went on an offensive to sell the proposal, which could end a three-year freeze on tuition. UC President Janet Napolitano sent emails to alumni, faculty and donors explaining her plan to help pay for higher pension and salary costs and increase the enrollment of California students.

Unless state funding for UC rises enough to offset increases, her proposal calls for tuition for California undergraduates next year to be $12,804, up $612, not including room, board and books. By the 2019-20 school year, that could increase to $15,564.

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UC chancellors and faculty leaders announced solid support for Napolitano while state Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León expressed deep reservations.

Brown, who is a UC regent, previously committed to raising state funding for UC by 4% annually for the next two years only if tuition stays flat, according to H.D. Palmer, a state Department of Finance spokesman. He acknowledged that there was no formal compact with UC over the matter but said those conditions “have been clear from the outset.”

Palmer declined to say how the governor would react if the UC regents increased tuition, or whether Brown might move to cut funds for UC.

Atkins, also a regent, said she will vote against the plan at the UC Board of Regents’ meeting on Nov. 19-20.

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“While the state’s commitment to higher education absolutely needs to be backed up with adequate resources, fee increases are not the solution, and California families have already endured enough of them,” she said in a statement.

De León said UC tuition is “already too expensive” and promised to press for both additional state funding and more efficiencies throughout the university.

Jefferson Kuoch-Seng, president of the systemwide UC Student Assn., said students are strongly against the proposal and want UC and government leaders to find ways to avoid any tuition increase.

“It’s a really big burden on students. It’s really unfortunate,” the UC Merced management major said. While Napolitano contends the plan would provide more predictability, Kuoch-Seng said it doesn’t help families since increases still could range from zero to 5%, depending on state funding.

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The cost of a UC education now can add up to more than $30,000 a year with campus fees, room, board and books.

Nathan Brostrom, UC’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, described the plan as a reasonable alternative to the volatile and steep tuition increases before the recent three-year freeze.

The plan would continue strong financial aid that, along with federal and other state grants, allows about half of UC students to pay no tuition, he said at a press conference at UC headquarters in Oakland.

UC will remain “an amazing value for California and its families,” he said, adding that the proposal will fund hiring of more faculty and adding 5,000 in-state students over five years.

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Asked about Brown’s opposition, Brostrom said UC administrators would continue to try to convince the governor to change his mind. Brostrom maintained UC has cut spending and said that the technological changes Brown seeks are not cheap and can take years to implement.

In a joint statement, the chancellors of all 10 UC campuses announced their strong support for the proposal, calling it “predictable and fair.”

Mary Gilly, who is the chair of the systemwide faculty senate, described the proposed tuition increases as “unfortunate but necessary” to protect the university’s academic excellence and keep it accessible to students.

Most professors would have preferred to avoid tuition increases if the state spent significantly more on higher education, she said. But since that is not likely, “the plan is a good option,” Gilly, who is a UC Irvine management professor, said.

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Some faculty and students are disappointed that UC has not received a bigger boost from Proposition 30, the successful income and sales tax increase measure Brown proposed, even though they mobilized to help its passage in 2012. The $2.64 billion in state general revenue funds for UC this year is 5% more than the prior year but is still $460 million below what it was seven years ago, officials said.

larry.gordon@latimes.com
Twitter: @larrygordonlat


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