Latest state budget cut prompts another UC tuition hike

No one liked the options on the table at last week's UC Regents meeting, but UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal had the long-term health of the university in mind when he addressed board members about a proposed 9.6 percent tuition increase.

Weighing in on an additional $150 million budget cut to the university in the final 2011-12 state budget, Blumenthal was emphatic: "Enough is enough," he told the Board of Regents.

UCSC and other campuses have already absorbed a $500 million cut in state support by laying off staff, leaving faculty positions unfilled, cutting teaching assistants, and trimming programs. The additional $150 million cut was too much to bear, Blumenthal said.

"I'm not a fan of high tuition, and I truly wish we could roll back tuition to what it was when two-thirds of our Legislature were themselves participating in California higher education, but that's just not realistic today," Blumenthal told the Regents during the July 14 meeting.

The $1,068 tuition increase for this fall, which was approved on a 14-4 vote, follows a previously approved 8 percent hike that also takes effect in September. Under UC's financial aid programs, most students who qualify for financial aid and whose family income is below $120,000 will receive additional aid that will cover the bill for this year, noted Blumenthal. That means nearly half of all UCSC's undergraduates will be covered for the 2011-12 school year.

"I've heard some students call these tuition increases a tax on the middle class, and I'm inclined to agree with them," Blumenthal said the day after the meeting. "There's help for the neediest families. It's the middle class that's getting hit the hardest."

The chancellor outlined some of the steps being taken at UCSC to ensure that students get their money's worth and are able to get the classes they need to graduate in four years.

"Faculty are re-examining major requirements, and campuswide, we are streamlining course delivery to make sure we're offering the classes that are in high demand," he said. "Particularly as costs go up, we want to ensure that students have a clear pathway to complete their degree in four years or less."

Blumenthal predicted that parents will appreciate UCSC's efforts to streamline the curriculum. "Parents really, really do not want their students to stick around an extra year," he told the Regents. A $1,000 tuition increase is a bitter pill, he said, but it is far less costly than an additional quarter or more of school.

Blumenthal reiterated other risks posed by the specter of more budget cuts, including morale and UC's ability to retain faculty. Young faculty, in particular, need to know they can build a career at the university and that the administration and the Regents are committed to preserving UC's quality.

That's precisely the signal that was sent by Regent Bonnie Reiss when she voted for the fee hike.

"I hate that we have been forced by our state politicians to raise tuition, but I hate even more the possibility of letting UC slide into becoming a second-rate institution," Reiss said.