Students Demand More Say in Tuition Increase

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A recent proposed tuition increase for UCSF’s professional schools has incited pushback from many student organizations, sparking conversation about the role of student input in financial matters and whether the competitiveness of UCSF’s programs are being compromised by an increasing student debt burden.

The increase is to the Professional Degree Supplemental Tuition, or PDST, an additional fee that the University of California assesses professional degree programs — for UCSF, these include the Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Physical Therapy and Pharmacy. The increase proposed a 3% per year PDST increase for the next four years for each of the programs, with the exception of the School of Nursing, whose proposed 15% increase was modified to 8% due to student input.

Student feedback on the fee increase for the other schools was solicited earlier this year in the form of a survey from Student Academic Affairs. Emailed out to student government leaders on October 27th for dissemination to their respective schools, the survey closed a few days later on November 1st. Survey participation was markedly low — the highest participation rate was from the PharmD program at 14%.

At the recent meeting of the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA, UCSF’s combined student government) there was a consensus that three days was not enough time for adequate student input. “There should be a policy in place for student feedback,” said GPSA President Pete Croughan, a second year medical student. “Instead of this being the last thing on the list, student feedback should be part of the process.”

The School of Nursing’s higher-than-expected increase was also discussed at the meeting. GPSA Nursing representative and Masters in Nursing candidate Cate Flanagan explained that the change from a 15% to an 8% increase was due to the very rapid student response. In an email to Synapse, she wrote, “In just two days almost 100 SON students responded expressing great concern with the fee increases. Thanks to this feedback, the Dean’s Office agreed to lower the fee increases.”

During the meeting, Flanagan was resigned. “We’re not pleased that there was a fee increase, but we’re pleased that the school heard [us].”

Nursing students were not alone in their worry over increasing costs. When asked about the perceived overall cost of their program, all of the polled schools responded in the expensive to very expensive range, with the exception of the Dental Hygiene program, who responded that their program was affordable. When then asked how the value of their program compared to cost, the majority of participants responded in the neutral to low-value range.

The Associated Students of the School of Medicine (ASSM) recently drafted a petition to show their objection towards increasing the PDST. Signed by 199 medical students, the petition expresses concern over the rapidly increasing cost of tuition and “strongly recommends that 100% of the additional funds from an increase in PDST be devoted entirely to student financial aid.” Dean Catherine Lucey, Vice-Dean for Education in the School of Medicine, sent out an email following the petition, assuring students that the majority of the increase would go towards financial aid; all aid-receiving students’ financial aid packages will be increased concomitant with the PDST increase.

But, as ASSM Co-President and second-year medical student Flavio Oliveira wrote in an email to Synapse, those he and others are actually worried about are the future UCSF students. Citing a recent report produced by ASSM, he argues that higher fees make UCSF less accessible for students of low socioeconomic status and will hurt the School of Medicine’s competitiveness overall.

“[ASSM is concerned about] the negative impact that the increased cost of attendance has had on student well being and the recruitment of a diverse socioeconomic student body. The ASSM board is therefore very concerned that the proposed increases in tuition and fees are expected to outpace inflation for the same period making a UCSF medical education even less affordable,” writes Oliveira.

Oliveira sent out an email to medical students on November 9th, stating that the Deans of the School of Medicine had agreed to put all of the PDST increase towards financial aid. “This is a testament to what students can do when we speak with a unified voice for improving the student experience,” Oliveira wrote.

The PDST increase proposals are currently under review by Elizabeth Watkins, Vice Chancellor of Student Academic Affairs and will eventually be sent on to Chancellor Sam Hawgood for final approval.

Vice-Chancellor Watkins says she plans to review the proposal and accompanying student feedback carefully, and also plans to “convene representatives from the professional programs and the budget office to revise the schedule of submitting PDST increase proposals. [This would] include more time for students to comment on the proposals, and more time for program administrators to engage with students in response to that commentary.”