SAN FRANCISCO -- Despite opposition from student groups, University of California regents on Thursday approved a multiyear plan to raise tuition and fees at one of the nation's premier public university systems.
The systemwide tuition increase will put undergraduate tuition and systemwide fees at just over $13,000 a year for in-state students, with additional campus-based fees on top of that.
Officials said that the increase — the first since 2017 — includes a progressive strategy that will benefit most students through higher financial aid. But low-income students who spoke at Thursday's meeting said they feared the opposite, as regents and officials acknowledged their discomfort at raising the cost to attend a public university.
“We all acknowledge that increasing tuition is not an action to be taken lightly. But this is the best option we have to provide cost predictability, enhanced student support, and preserve the excellence of the university,” said UC President Michael Drake.
UC schools are known for top-notch academics and renowned faculty. The system has 10 campuses and 292,0000 undergraduate and graduate students, up from 171,000 students two decades ago.
But declining, unstable state funding has led to a backlog of deferred maintenance, classrooms and technology in need of upgrading, and larger class sizes, university officials said.
The plan adopted by the board Thursday calls for in-state tuition and fees to rise by 2% plus inflation—or 4.2%, for new undergraduates starting in the 2022-23 academic year, which amounts to an additional $534.
That amount would stay flat for those students for up to six years. It would increase by smaller percentages for each of the following incoming classes until the 2026-27 academic year, when any increase would be based solely on inflation. Regents will need to reauthorize the plan in five years.
Aidan Arasasingham, president of the UC Students Association, pleaded with regents to reject the plan, speaking of his love for a university system that welcomed his grandfather from Sri Lanka in 1968.
“I know you can do better, because I’ve seen UC do better, but that always happens when it has chosen daring courage over mediocre predictability," he said.
The vote was 17-5 with the board’s student representative and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon among the no votes, saying they objected to making education less accessible. Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond also voted no as did Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who said it was inappropriate to pass a tuition increase at a time when the state of California, flush with cash, has granted the system an extra $1.3 billion, for an $11 billion budget.
“We pride ourselves in educating Californians, regardless of how wealthy their parents are, or how much capacity they have to pay,” she said. “We have reaped enormous economic and social benefits to our state of providing affordable education to our students.”
More than half of in-state undergraduates currently have their tuition and fees covered by need-based grants, and that won't change, said UC officials. In fact, they said that only students whose families earn $150,000 a year or more would benefit from keeping tuition flat, it said, whereas everyone else would benefit from more financial aid.
Tuition has not kept pace with inflation since 2011, the Public Policy Institute of California said this week. The increases will provide stability but should be paired with a robust campaign to ensure students apply for financial aid.
UC officials said in-state tuition and campus fees at comparable public universities in Virginia, Illinois and Michigan average more than $17,000 a year, with increases ranging from 24% to 56% since 2011. Over the same time period, UC tuition has gone up 6%.
Board Chair Cecilia Estolano urged the university system to take note of the institute's warning that an aggressive public education campaign to students and parents was needed, otherwise “students could be leaving money on the table, because of the complexity of our financial aid system,” she said.