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Proposed University of California System Tuition Hike Ignites Firestorm

Passions are flaring in California, from the legislature to the university campus, after the State Assembly voted last week to significantly raise tuition costs for non-California residents attending UC schools, and to cap the number of out-of-state students at 10 percent in an effort to open greater education access to low-income California students.

Co-written with Republicans and introduced by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, AB 1711 passed 78-2 and now heads to the State Senate, where it has strong Democratic support and will likely be approved by the end of the month.

“This is really a broad-based, bipartisan plan to expand access to the UC [schools] for California students,” said McCarty, who heads the budget subcommittee on education finance. In order to meet budget shortfalls, “we’ve quadrupled the number of nonresidents and international students attending UC in the last decade, and they’re still increasing those slots. We’ve had enough. Let’s draw the line and come up with a plan that focuses on Californians.”

McCarty’s tough talk has found support, especially among lower-income Californian students, many of whom feel like they were passed over by the UC system in favor of students willing to pay triple the tuition fees to attend from out of state. Under the bill, tuition for nonresidents will increase over six years from the current cost of around $37,000 to about $54,000 — catapulting the UC system over elite private schools such as Stanford, which currently charges around $46,000, making it the country’s priciest public college for nonresidents.

To many UC students from out of state, the move signals a reckless form of discrimination that could imperil the richly diverse, multicultural character of the California school system, once considered the best public education option in the world. “Out-of-state students provide a fundamentally valuable aspect to the higher education system that benefits California residents,” said Will Morrow, UC Berkeley’s student body president, who hails from Minneapolis.

About one-quarter of Berkeley’s students come from out of state, and they “bring diversity, perspective and global viewpoints and approaches that are unparalleled in any other state school system,” he said. “A lot of these students end up staying in California after graduating and become top-level thinkers, academics, doctors, entrepreneurs, leaders and contributing California taxpayers for years to come. [But] with this proposal to raise out-of-state tuition to insurmountable levels, the only students coming will be the global 1 percent — the richest of the rich.”

During the Great Recession, the state cut funding to the school and higher tuition costs for nonresidents played a key role in filling in the budget holes. Since 2012, the state’s investment in UC has increased, but so have the number of out-of-state students spending ever-larger amounts to attend. According to the Sacramento Bee, supplemental fees from nonresident students brought in around $400 million to the UC in 2013-14.

“This policy has really impacted lower-income and underrepresented minority students in California,” said McCarty, many of whom “have tried to go to UC and weren’t able to get in. It’s all about economics. They’re not doing this to increase exposure and diversity for international students — they’re doing this purely from a cash perspective.”

Meanwhile, a state audit released in March showed the UC system is spending money on questionable priorities, such as bloated travel budgets, and it identified areas where the system could make strategic cuts. The audit also found that, not only is nonresident enrollment growing at the expense of California students, but in some cases, nonresident students with lower qualifications were admitted while better-qualified California students were denied admission — directly contradicting the California Master Plan for Higher Education of 1960, which stated that nonresident students required equal or better qualifications in order to be admitted to UC.

“Educating California students should be the first priority of California’s public universities,” said Assemblymember Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino, noting that, a decade ago, only 5 percent of UC students were nonresidents, and that number has now increased to around 20 percent. Brown claims her own granddaughter had a 4.0 grade point average but was passed over by UC because too many slots were filled.

“This increase in out-of-state students, coupled with the explosive growth of fees, and higher administrative costs, are unacceptable and I am very concerned that California students, especially those from low-income families and students of color, are being priced out of pursuing a college education in their home state.”

Funding support for out of staters already faced setbacks last fall when the UC Board of Regents approved a budget plan to phase out need-based financial aid for nonresidents, using the savings to fund a targeted enrollment increase of 5,000 Californian students in the coming academic year. The current bill seeks to add 30,000 Californians to the system by 2022, putting the number of state attendees around 200,000.

For McCarty and supporters of the bill, raising the cost of tuition won’t stem the flood of out-of-state applicants. On the contrary, even as UC tuition fees rose by 8 percent for nonresidents last year, the school system “nonetheless had a banner year with a large increase in applications. There is a huge demand for this highly coveted degree from the UC, and there are still people willing to pay a premium,” he said, adding that freshman admissions by residents fell by 2.1 percent last year as nonresident admissions rose by 13.2 percent.

The UC Regents, which opposes the bill, nevertheless released a report that admitted if the school exceeds 10 percent enrollment for nonresidents, it will harm opportunities for California students to attend UC.

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