Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) has decided to drop the legislation he introduced in 2013 aiming to temporarily freeze higher-education tuition rates, as he hopes that other lawmakers’ similar efforts will suffice.
The bill, SB58, would have prohibited mandatory system wide fees or tuition charged to students of the California State University, California Community Colleges, and the University of California from exceeding the amounts charged during 2011-12 until 2018-19, effective immediately.
With the passage of Proposition 30 – known as the Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012 – an estimated $50 billion is to be raised over a period of seven years. Cannella introduced his bill in recognition of the promises made to the voters of California that the tax rate increases by Prop 30 would protect education while providing the General Fund support for higher education. With the higher tax rates imposed by Prop 30 over the next seven years, Cannella asserted that increases in mandatory system wide student fees or tuition would not be required during this period.
But with Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed budget, which includes a total funding of $26.3 billion for higher education, Cannella has announced that he would be withdrawing his bill as the Governor’s budget reflects a dedication to keeping higher education affordable for California students.
“I applaud Governor Brown’s commitment to remain true to his promise to keep our higher education system both affordable and world-class. If we are going to get our economy back on track we need an educated workforce, yet more and more students are finding the dream of a UC and CSU education out of reach due to escalating costs,” said Cannella. “As a result of the Governor’s efforts to freeze tuition last year and UC President Janet Napolitano’s pledge to freeze tuition this upcoming year, I am not going forward with my bill, SB58.”
Although Prop 30 aims to avoid additional cuts, higher education tuition and fees for students have been subject to dramatic increases over the past several years, resulting in many students across the state dropping out prior to graduating due to being unable to afford the higher rates. Tuition and fees for UC students increased 43 percent in just a three year period from 2007 to 2010.
In response to the significant cuts in state funding during the recent economic downturn, UC and CSU campuses almost doubled system wide tuition and fees from 2007 to 2012, increasing by $5,556 at UC and by $2,700 at CSU.
The rapid increases, which often occurred with little advance notice to students and families, continue to be a hardship for students and particularly middle-income families who do not qualify for Cal Grants. As a result, thousands of students turn to student loans, with about half of California undergraduates having a student debt average of $20,300. According to the California Student Aid Commission who administers state financial aid to students attending California institutions, the costs for the Cal Grant program have increased dramatically over a 10 year period due to the rising UC and CSU tuition and fee increases, as participation and costs saw an increase from 176,000 students and $644 million in 2003-04 to more than 280,000 students and $1.6 billion estimated for 2013-14.
With a recovering state economy, however, the Governor’s budget has increased funding for higher education, resulting in system wide tuition and fee rates remaining flat since 2011-12.
In addition to the Middle Class Scholarship Program – a new $107 million program set to phase into the system in 2014-15 and reduce tuition by up to 40 percent for families with incomes up to $150,000 – the Governor’s budget General Fund has been providing installments of a four-year investment plan seeking to provide steady and predictable state funding increases through 2016-17. However, according to the Governor’s office, these multi-year investments are contingent on the UC and CSU holding tuition flat at 2011-12 levels through 2016-17.
According to the Governor’s Administration, the UC and CSU must use the funds provided from the multi-year investments to maintain affordability, decrease the time it takes for students to complete a degree, increase the numbers of students who complete academic programs, and improve the transfer of community college students to four-year colleges and universities. Starting March 2014, UC and CSU campuses must report annually on these measures, allowing the state to monitor their progress in meeting the Governor’s expectations.
Gov. Brown’s Administration has also noted that their long-term plan includes moving away from funding higher education based on enrollment targets, as it does not encourage institutions to focus on critical outcomes such as affordability, timely completion rates, and quality programs. Previously, increased funding came from admitting more students, rather than ensuring students complete degrees in a timely or efficient manner, while allowing public universities and colleges to deliver education in the high-cost, traditional model.
“If in the future there is the potential to see tuition rise, I will revisit introducing a similar bill,” said Cannella.
Due to the changes implemented by Gov. Brown and the ongoing General Fund increase of $142.2 million, increases in student tuition and fees at the UC and CSU should be prevented over the next several years.