Editorial: UC should hold off on raising tuition

Students walk on the UC Berkeley campus.
Students walk on the UC Berkeley campus in 2017.
(David Butow / For The Times)

The University of California is looking at a new pricing scheme that holds the cost of tuition steady throughout a student’s undergraduate years. Pioneered by such schools as George Washington University in Washington, D.C., this wise approach lets families plan for a college education without getting hit by large, unforeseen increases. It’s a concept whose time has come.

This is the wrong time, though, for another pending proposal, which will be discussed Thursday by the Board of Regents: a tuition price hike that would raise the cost of a year’s classes at a UC school by as much as $642, starting with the class entering in 2022.

The board decided against a similar tuition increase last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the state’s infection rates low and trending lower, the regents might have thought this was a safe time to bring in more revenue, which would be used largely to underwrite more financial aid for low-income students.


Things are certainly looking up on several fronts, but the state and its residents aren’t out of the woods yet. Many families are still recovering financially and emotionally from the traumas of the pandemic. The potential for new surges and possible variants of the coronavirus isn’t known yet. The housing market is booming, which means finding affordable housing is more difficult than ever. The last thing families need is a new expense that will add $2,500 to the cost of a four-year college education.

Besides, UC should soon be awash in new money, as Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed to use federal rescue funds to increase the state’s higher education budget by nearly $50 billion. Newsom doesn’t want the money to be used to cover tuition-related costs, but some of those dollars could be used to reduce student housing costs, another important part of college expenses. Room and board at some UC campuses are among the most costly in the nation.

Meanwhile, UC staff just received a 3% pay raise. Not to deny employees good pay, but the system’s staff were not laid off during the pandemic. They are relatively whole, while many incoming UC students’ families are not.

Like other public colleges in California, UC is particularly generous with financial aid. Students whose families earn less than $80,000 a year can attend tuition-free, and many students receive considerable help with the cost of housing and textbooks as well. But the amount of assistance for families making more than $80,000 falls off sharply. A year at UC costs about $30,000; that’s not an easy nut for many families to swallow.

Newsom should either let UC use some of the new funding for financial aid or give it a bigger share of the state’s current surplus. At the same time, UC should be looking for ways to cut costs, especially in its administration. Tuition hikes will come to UC, but this is not the time to put an additional burden on students and their families.