Lawmakers seek higher education, lower cost

A possible freeze on tuition has higher education turning a cold shoulder to the state government. Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget plan includes updated requirements, such as affordable college education, a 10-percent increase of transfer students from community colleges, freshmen graduating in four years, and more course offerings.

But the governor's demand to halt tuition increases for the next four years at the University of California and California State University systems, which correlates with the proposed Assembly Bill 67, is a distressing matter for the higher education systems.

"We are trying to address the issues with the authors [of AB 67] and work with them," says Erik Fallis, a CSU media relations specialist. "We are interested in the budget discussions happening in Sacramento, but we have concerns."

According to the budget, only 16 percent of CSU students complete their degree within four years, and 60 percent of UC students. Brown is pushing for students to graduate in four years, which is another worry for the higher education institutes.

"We'd like to go back to the drawing board," said Patrick Lenz, a top UC budget official, to the Los Angeles Times. "The university was not consulted in advance about the details of Brown's proposal."

Republican Assemblymembers Kristin Olsen, Rocky Chavez and Jeff Gorell authored Assembly Bill 67, in compliance with the passage of Proposition 30 last fall, to ensure that the tax revenue from Prop. 30 will fund public education and enable a rise in tuition fees. The California LegislatureAssembly’s Higher Education Committee passed the bill with bipartisan support on April 9, according to a press release from Olsen’s office.

"AB 67 is still going through the legislative process," says Kim Nikols, communications director for the Office of Assemblymember Kristin Olsen. "It was put on the suspense file by the Appropriations Committee where we are hoping it will be taken off and be heard again in late May."

Brown's budget plan states that a General Fund increase of $125.1 million will be given to both UCs and CSUs, in addition to the $125 million both school systems will receive in 2013-14 for not raising the tuition fees in the 2012-13 academic year, according to the official 2013-14 Governor's Budget Summary document.

"There are no plans [for CSUs] to raise tuition for the 2013-14 academic year," says Fallis. "We didn't raise the tuition for last year either."

According to Olsen, the cost of college is keeping many students away from furthering their education, and by stabilizing the tuition rate, it will help students advance with their college education.

"I am grateful that my colleagues chose to support our state’s college students and move AB 67 forward,” she says.

If the bill passes, it could have a role in easing the transfer process for California Community College students.

"It is something to consider when a student is ready or close to being eligible to transfer," says Robert Isomoto, vice president of business and administration at Santa Monica College.

Brown’s budget plan will ensure a five percent increase in the General Fund contribution to the UC and CSU systems in the next two years, and a four percent increase in the following two years, according to the budget summary.

Tuition has risen by 84 percent since the 2007-08 academic school year at the UCs, and by 97 percent at the CSUs.

"The budget provides stable funding growth over multiple years and should eliminate the need for further tuition increases," states the document.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "both university systems are wary of agreeing to a four-year freeze." And Mike Uhlenkamp, director of CSU media relations and new media, told the newspaper that, "if economic problems take another bite out of tax revenue, state funding may not be able to keep pace with needs on campus."

“By stabilizing tuition and fees for four years, AB 67 will allow students to financially prepare for their education and prevent them from being priced out of completing their degrees,” Chavez says in the press release.

"SMC students are very smart and will definitely consider all conditions which will affect transferring to a university and their educational goals," says Isomoto.

Gorell says the budgets of the universities were balanced over the past decade by tripling the tuition and fees, which resulted in college education being unaffordable for many California families.

“This bill reaffirms California’s commitment to supporting higher education and maintaining a well-educated workforce, one of the most important pillars of California’s economy,” he says.

Students who plan to climb up the path to higher education will have some reassurance of a set tuition rate of the UC and CSU systems with the passage of AB 67.

"It would be great to get as much support from students as possible by asking them to call the members of the Appropriations Committee and voicing their support and asking them to pull it off of the suspense file," says Nickols.

"Until it comes off of the suspense file, the bill is idle and will not be able to be voted on and sent to the Governor to become law," she says.


NewsMuna CosicComment