UC sets course for steep tuition hikes

University of California President Janet Napolitano’s office called Thursday for a plan that would increase students’ tuition by as much as 5 percent over the next five years unless the state provides comparable funding, a move that critics blasted as taking university students hostage.

After years of steep hikes, the UC system froze tuition for the last two years, and upon taking office last year, Napolitano pledged the tuition freeze would remain in effect for the 2014-15 school year.

The state has already pledged to increase state assistance for tuition by 4 percent next year but that would only increase the university’s overall operating budget by 1.7 percent, falling short of the rate of inflation, “far less than what is needed to meet the needs of the students and the university,” Napolitano’s office said in a statement.

Napolitano said:

“We have frozen tuition for three years, continued to maximize operational efficiencies, reduced staff, stepped up our fundraising and deferred critical maintenance. … We hope the state will partner with us by increasing its investment in UC. But we can’t wait any longer.”

In announcing increased support for UC in Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget in January, his office said that it was predicated on no tuition hikes.

A 5 percent hike would increase tuition for in-state students by $612 to $12,804 in the 2015-16 school year, according to Napolitano’s office. Tuition for out-of-state students would raise more than $1,700 under the current plan to about $36,820.

The UC Board of Regents is scheduled to consider the plan at its Nov. 19 meeting. Some state lawmakers and student groups have come forward in fierce opposition to the plan.

State Assembly speaker and UC Regent Toni Atkins said in a statement she would vote against it:

“With Cal Grant restorations and the Middle Class Scholarship, the Assembly has taken the lead on making college more affordable for California families, so it is disturbing to see students used as leverage in budget negotiations.”

Napolitano’s office said that such programs would make the tuition hikes manageable for lower-income students.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents more than 22,000 service and patient care technical workers and has picketed in San Francisco over contract negotiations as recently as September, criticized the university today for recent pay increases for top administrators.

According to the union, the university recently raised the salaries of five of its highest-paid employees as much as 20 percent:

Union President Kathryn Lybarger said in a statement:

“If UC wants to regain the trust of California lawmakers, the starting point should be to stop squandering millions of public dollars on oversized executive compensation and outsourcing contracts. … Demanding more money from students and taxpayers without first correcting the tone-deaf mismanagement that has been a catalyst for UC’s financial problems is a non-starter.”

The UC Student Association also criticized the plan in a statement, saying it would not in fact bring stability to students, contrary to the claims by Napolitano’s office.

The student association said in a statement:

“The UC plan demands that Governor Brown and the Legislature uphold their part of the Stability Plan, while the UC now wants to break their side of the agreement, which was to freeze student tuition. … UCSA views the plan proposed by (Napolitano’s office) as one that does not prioritize students, but rather holds them hostage for the future of their education. Instead of using students as political pawns, the UC and Regents should consider partnering with students on a meaningful level to advocate to the state for more funding.”