Opinion: Toward A New Fee Advocacy Strategy

The University of California continues to face significant struggles during the state's budget crisis. This has resulted in a significant decline in state support for California's higher education system. From 2001 to 2004, undergraduate students and their parents were overwhelmed with consecutive fee increases: the student fees of seniors are now 46 percent more in constant dollars than when they first enrolled at the University of California. (Fiscal Profiles, 2004, California Postsecondary Education Commission). This figure has more than doubled since then and it has placed pressure on the University to maintain access, quality, and affordability during the 2008-09 budget year and most certainly in the near future.

The UC Board of Regents face difficult decisions as they attempt to meet the needs of the University while maintaining the commitment to California's Master Plan for Higher Education. The Regents assert that revenue must be raised via one of the University's primary funding mechanisms: student fees. As both a member of the Board of Regents and a student, it is plain to see that students are getting the short of end the stick. Since 2001, student fees have increased 93 percent for undergraduates, and 106 percent for graduate students. On May 14, 2008, the Regents voted once again to raise student fees by 7.4 percent, for the 2008-09 academic year, which has resulted in an over 100 percent increase in student fees since 2001.

Taxing students and their families to secure the University's future is not the direction we should take. Collectively, we need a reinvestment in higher education by prioritizing its importance in the state budget. On average, for every Californian dollar invested in higher education, we receive a return of three. As students, we have consistently raised our voices and spoken about our concerns. We have protested, held rallies and some of us have even been arrested. All of these forms of action are necessary in the fight for justice, but there are also other ways.

In response to the budget challenges, the student Regent and the University of California Student Association (UCSA) formed the UC Funding Task Force in the fall of 2007 in order to provide ongoing advice and council to the Board of Regents, UC Office of the President administration, and the Academic Senate regarding student fees from the student purview. Its charge was to accumulate budget data, information on long-range planning, Regental priorities, student needs assessments, funding pipelines, and fee accountability metrics. Its goal was to address the current budget cycle concerns, prioritize student needs, and develop long-range planning for the use of student fees, centering on the needs of students.

Since the fall of 2007, the Task Force has actively and successfully engaged the Regents and Office of the President, which resulted in an increase to student mental health aid, an increase to graduate student support, and the maintenance of Academic Preparation funding at 2007-08 levels during this difficult budget year. These efforts helped secure 51 million dollars in funding priorities for students in the 2008-09 budget. Additionally, we successfully halted a 10 percent fee increase. Unfortunately a 7.4 percent educational fee was approved, but the task force remains committed to preventing any increase in student fees.

Through its research, the Task Force has exposed different funding challenges and is working to develop a strategy to address them. Over the course of the year, it has also helped shape the messaging and strategy for statewide student efforts against fee increases.

Given the recent dramatic fee increases, it has become apparent that both the state and the UC are balancing the budget by taxing. The work of the Task Force, then, is to facilitate the discussion on student fees in a manner that will curtail this adverse pattern and prioritize the needs of students.

After a year of work focused on the development of the 2008-09 budget, the Task Force is currently advocating for an audit on student fees to address funding shortfalls in student services. Additionally, the Task Force is suggesting that the Regents adopt a long-term student fee policy that will address the challenges of the State budget shortfalls. It is also soliciting systemwide student input on the budget and advocacy process, as well as developing alternative funding solutions that do not include student fee increases.

The UC Funding Task Force has demonstrated significant success in helping to shape the budget according to student needs and will need all of your support in this effort to fund our future. The State must prioritize higher education. The University must prioritize student needs. We are the future citizens of California and alumni of this great University.

D'Artagnan Scorza

UC Funding Task Force, Co-Chair

UC Student Regent 2008-09