Aerial view of UCSF parnassus campus in 1980.

Throwback Thursday: UC Tutition Troubles

Thursday, October 22, 2015

On this day in 1981, the Synapse headline read, “Latest budget cut may force new UC fee hike”, a familiar situation that could easily be found in today’s headlines. As a result of then (and current) Governor Edmund “Jerry” Brown’s severe statewide budget cuts, the University of California system faced a $22 million budget cut that threatened to raise student fees, interrupting enrollment and employment for the rest of the fiscal year. UC officials predicted that they would lose $112 million in two years, fearing that the health professional schools could be among the first to feel the knife of the Governor’s budget-axing proposals.

Tuition is defined as fees for “instruction and classroom related costs”, while student fees fund financial aid and student services. The history of UC tuition begins in 1868, when the UC Board of Regents were created to govern financial and admission responsibilities and they declared that that admission and tuition shall be free to all California residents. In 1921, while tuition was still free, California residents had to pay an “incidental fee” for non-instruction related services.

In 1960, Clark Kerr’s California Master Plan maintained that the UC system remain tuition-free, but also that fees were necessary to fund laboratories, health and other student services. In 1970, California residents begun paying an “educational fee” and over the next several decades, student tuition and fees have only continued to increase.

At this time, legislation largely discouraged UC from increasing tuition but the passing of Proposition 13 and worsening state budget problems threatened tuition charges. Since the 1978 passage of Prop. 13, the University has lost over $23 million from its base budget and another $52 million for specific programs have been cut.

Today, we have grown accustomed to fees increasing on an annual basis, to perpetual meetings with UC officials, and to student groups protesting against the outrageous cost of public education, a commodity that was once free to all Californians. In January 1981, legislative cuts that increased the educational fees to $75 per quarter went largely unopposed by student leaders, but they pledged to challenge future increases. Unsurprisingly, UC student groups opposed any fee increases, even those labeled as a one-time deal. Back then students began to realize that this was the beginning of a ripple effect that would challenge waves of students for many decades to come.

How incredibly jarring it must have been to learn, in 1981, that student fees traumatically increased by nearly 80% from $840 a year to $1155 a year just between June to October 1982. To put this in perspective, in 1981, gas prices were around $1.35, a gallon of milk cost $2.30, a two-bedroom studio at Sunset Towers rented for $500-$950.

Luckily, UC and student lobbyists found their voice and, after their active protests throughout the fall of 1981, Governor Brown responded in January of 1982 by increasing the UC budget by $34.8 million to $1.2 billion for 1982-83. However, it was still far below the current inflation rate and did not include employee pay raises. Demonstrations and rallies continued into 1983 as UC campuses faced more frequent episodes of fee and tuition instability over the next four years.

In June 2015, UC President Janet Napolitano announced that, as a result of the new state budget, there would be no resident tuition increases for the next two years. Beginning in 2017–18, however, “resident tuition would gradually increase, pegged to the rate of inflation.” UC’s Student Services Fees will increase annually by 5% starting in 2015–16 and the Professional Degree Supplemental Tuition (PDST) approach, adopted by the Regents in November 2014, will remain in effect where charges vary by campus.

There are clear parallels between 1981 and today as the UC budget has been through many challenging times with state budget crises and funding cuts, but students will await the day when we can once again “not only access an affordable UC education, but [also ensure] that our current and future students receive as high-quality an educational experience as did past generations of Californians.”