Capitol Alert: University of California regents debate lifting tuition freeze

03/19/2014 1:31 PM

04/08/2014 6:27 AM

Facing a budget shortfall of more than a hundred million dollars, the University of California Board of Regents expressed doubts at its bimonthly meeting Wednesday that it could sustain the current tuition freeze for students.

"Obviously, none of us want to increase tuition," board chairman Bruce D. Varner said. But realistically, "we will need to have increases that make sense" going forward.

Tuition has been held at 2011-12 levels--around $12,500--for the past three years and Gov. Jerry Brown has offered modest annual funding increases for UC as long as fees remain flat through the 2016-17 academic year.

But Brown's January budget proposal, which would allocate another $142 million, or 5 percent, to the university, still falls $124 million short of the UC budget that regents approved last November, said Nathan Brostrom, UC's executive vice president of business operations.

The difference covers three major areas, he added: enrollment funding, deferred maintenance and $64 million in pension contributions.

"Those are the areas we should be hitting on in our meetings with the Legislature and the governor's staff," Brostrom said.

Regent Hadi Makarechian argued that it is not viable to keep freezing tuition when fees are the university's biggest source of income. He suggested that recent borrowing and overspending could put UC on the path to bankruptcy.

Some regents strongly disagreed with the prospect of raising tuition. Regent Sherry L. Lansing said that the university should ask for help funding its pension and retiree health care commitments, as the state does for the California State University system.

"Why are we treated differently?" she said. "It makes no sense."

Student regent Cinthia Flores said she hopes the university will be "honest and upfront" about the possibility of a fee increase, so that students won't be hit with another 32 percent jump in tuition "out of nowhere" like in 2009.

UC also released the results of a new campus climate report during the meeting. The survey of more than 100,000 students, faculty and staff followed a series of racially charged incidents, including a "Compton Cookout" party at UC San Diego in 2010 that mocked Black History Month.

The report showed that more than three-quarters of respondents felt comfortable with the climate at their location, but those numbers were slightly lower among members of minority groups. About 9 percent of respondents said they had experienced exclusionary behavior that affected their ability to work or learn.

Aimée Dorr, executive vice president for academic affairs, said each campus will be expected to develop "two or three areas where they can improve" and "have goals, metrics and be working on it" by the end of the year.

"The ultimate goal needs to be, in part, to get a critical mass of folks" from underrepresented minorities on campuses so they don't feel excluded, added Gibor Basri, UC Berkeley's vice chancellor for equity and inclusion..

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