UC Board of Regents Committee Approves Tuition Name Change

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SAN FRANCISCO - In a move that has stirred debate and raised questions about California's future financial obligations to its public universities, the UC Board of Regents Committees on Educational Policy and Finance voted Wednesday to change the name of university educational fees to tuition, acknowledging the state's declining funding for the university system.

While the wording change - which is expected to be approved by the full board Thursday - has no impact on the university's use and level of student charges, opponents of the proposal say it is abandoning the foundational mission of a tuition-free university as outlined in the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education. The UC states the change will improve transparency by admitting that fee revenue funds a majority of the university's basic operations.

According to the UC, given the definitions of "educational fees" and "tuition" laid out in the master plan, the UC has actually been charging tuition for the past 15 years. While the master plan defines tuition as charges for teaching expenses and educational fees as charges for services not directly related to instruction, during the recession of the early 1990's, systemwide fees skyrocketed to compensate for reductions in state financial support, and educational fees were increasingly used to cover instructional and other related costs.

"Claiming to be a 'tuition-free' institution is no longer meaningful for the University of California," the UC's proposal states. "Although financial aid has preserved the spirit of 'tuition-free' education for low-income students, all three higher education segments in California now charge California students for educational and instructional costs."

While the name change acknowledges that student fees, rather than state funding, are being increasingly used to cover instructional and other university-related costs, there is debate as to what the implications of the change will be. The UC's proposal acknowledges that the adoption of the term tuition could be seen as an abandonment of the "tuition-free university."

The renaming should be thought of as a "practical change" rather than an abandonment of efforts to increase state funding for the UC, said Kevin Woolfork, a budget policy coordinator at the California Postsecondary Education Commission. He added that the change should not be seen as a block to future state support in better economic times.

"This change is kind of a nod to reality that state support in terms of the total amount of money the UC gets has been waning," Woolfork said. "With every budget and recession there is a hope that the state will eventually be able to move the clock back in terms of willingness to pay for higher education. Right now the UC is sober to the reality the money just isn't there to do so."

While some have stated that the name change more honestly describes the cost of a public education in California, state Assemblymember Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, said it does so at the expense of the state's higher education goals of providing affordable, quality education to eligible Californians.

"Ultimately, the state - the governor and legislature - will need to establish a policy that specifies what part of education is a public investment in our state's prosperity and what part our students will need to pay," said Ruskin, who chaired the latest decennial review of the state's master plan, in an e-mail.

He added that establishing this policy would help students and their families in planning for college costs, rather than being faced with "unexpected increases that may prevent completion and graduation."

Since the educational fee was established by the Regents in 1970 to cover building construction and non-instructional student services costs, it has expanded to cover instructional and other university-related costs as state funding for the UC declines. While the first educational fee in 1975 was only $300, it has since grown to $10,302, a number that will increase to $11,124 next year if the regents approve a recently proposed 8 percent fee hike.

According to John Vasconcellos, a retired state senator and assemblymember who chaired the first two reviews of the state's master plan, the proposal is reasonable in that it is "honest" and corrects the terminology to accurately reflect what students are paying. But he added the proposal's wording does not acknowledge the ideal of the tuition-free California education that has been "tragically lost."

"While the policy must be honest and this change makes a fair amount of sense, this change should acknowledge that the idea of a tuition-free education is one that should be cherished, one that has been regrettably changed to reflect the current reality of our times, and one that should not be entirely forsaken," he said.

Tags: MASTER PLAN FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, UC BOARD OF REGENTS, EDUCATIONAL FEE


Aaida Samad covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected]



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