UC will not seek immediate tuition increase

University of California students had cause Wednesday for some celebration: UC administrators said they would not seek an immediate tuition hike as a result of the state budget deal reached in Sacramento.

The UC regents are scheduled to meet in mid-July and had been expected to raise tuition by 6%, or $732 more a year, bringing in-state undergraduate tuition to $12,924, not including other campus fees and room and board.

However, the state Legislature put both pressure and a financial sweetener in the budget to avoid tuition hikes if voters approve a tax increase measure in November. As a result, UC President Mark G. Yudof has decided not to ask the regents next month for a tuition hike, spokeswoman Dianne Klein said.

“We will not recommend a tuition increase. We will recommend we take the deal,” Klein said. She noted that the UC regents will have final say on tuition levels no matter what Yudof suggests.

UC regents Chairwoman Sherry Lansing, who has expressed support in the past for such an arrangement to avoid tuition raises, was traveling abroad and unavailable for comment. It is thought unlikely that the regents, even with their constitutional independence, would buck Yudof, the governor and legislative leaders, as well as risk student protests.

“This is workable, this is doable,” Klein said of the budget plan, which would give the 10-campus UC an extra $125 million next summer if it keeps tuition stable. But she also said the plan “is not perfect, it’s a gamble.”

If voters in November reject Gov. Jerry Brown’s ballot measure to raise some taxes, UC students could face “double digit” percentage tuition increases, Klein said. If the tax measure fails, UC would not only lose that $125 million but would also see a further $250-million cut in state revenues, according to the budget plans.

Matthew Haney, executive director of the UC Student Assn., said his organization had lobbied hard for the tuition freeze and stressed that those fees have more than tripled over the past decade.

“It’s a long overdue opportunity for students and their families to have a moment not to worry about another increase, about another situation where they have to find additional money to pay for their education,” he said.

He also said he hoped that without a tuition increase, students and their families would be more inclined to support the tax ballot measure.

“Now the stakes and the outcomes of this vote are much more clear for the UC community,” he said.

The situation is more complicated for the 23-campus Cal State system. Its trustees in November approved a 9% tuition increase for the upcoming year that would raise undergraduate tuition by $498 annually to $5,970, not including campus-based fees, books and housing. On Wednesday, Cal State officials said they were considering their next step since the state budget calls for rescinding the tuition hike in exchange for $125 million.

A major problem is that Cal State campuses have begun collecting the higher tuition from thousands of students. Another pitfall is that the hike was projected to raise $132 million and giving it up would leave a $7-million gap, officials said.

Cal State spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said the university is negotiating an agreement to continue collecting tuition at the higher rate, pending the results in November. Under that scenario, if the tax measure passes, the university would issue refunds to students and if it fails, the fee hike would remain, he said. Such a plan would have to be approved by the trustees, whose next meeting is scheduled for mid-July. But the board could act as late as September, closer to the election, Uhlenkamp added.

At California’s community colleges, fees already had been increased for the current summer session and next fall to $46 a unit, up from $36, under a previous state budget plan. The $46 charge will continue under the new budget, officials said.

Some community colleges may further reduce class offerings in the fall as insurance against the tax measure’s defeat, avoiding a more drastic effect on spring semester classes, said Paige Marlatt-Dorr, a spokeswoman in the state chancellor’s office.

Then if the measure passes, colleges will be able to more easily increase their course offerings in the spring, she said. The budget deal would provide $213 million in additional funds in 2012-13 for California’s 112 community colleges, including $50 million to increase enrollment.

Times staff writer Carla Rivera contributed to this report.