California voters know their K-12 schools will see dramatic cuts and perhaps the nation's shortest school year if they reject a November tax increase. Now, the University of California has revealed its stake in the election: a 20-percent tuition hike for its nearly 182,000 undergraduates.
UC's annual cost could bump to $14,670 a year -- one more threat among many if Gov. Jerry Brown's sales tax and tax on the wealthy fails. California State University students would see their tuitions leap 5 percent to $6,120 a year.
The predicament has become routine for UC students bent by the weight of tuition that has doubled in the past six years. But now, the Brown tax plan has given parents, teachers and students from
"It would be devastating," said UC Berkeley senior Joey Freeman. "It just shows us how much of a stake we have in making sure the governor's tax package passes. Students really need to mobilize."
UC regents next week will discuss the nearly $2,500 increase, which would take effect in January. If voters approve the tax package, the 10-campus university would likely keep tuition at its 2011-12 level of $12,192, a more than 18 percent increase from the previous year.
Tuition at California universities has risen more rapidly than anywhere in the United States.
The tuition debate comes after last month's passage of an incentive-laden state budget that would, if voters pass the tax package, reward both the UC and California State University systems for freezing tuition at last year's levels. The deal would require the schools to forgo additional funds this year, but the state would pay the universities $125 million more each in 2013.
Brown's budget essentially has forced university leaders to support the tax plan. A June Field Poll showed a slight majority of likely voters, 52 percent, supported Brown's plan.
Trustees of the 23-campus Cal State system also will meet next week to discuss their own response to the budget deal. The system has raised tuition about 9 percent for the upcoming school year -- after a 23-percent increase a year earlier -- so accepting the deal would require the university to refund the higher tuition to students after the election.
If the tax measure fails, Cal State may raise tuition at least $150 starting in January and cut employees' pay and benefits by 2.5 percent.
State legislators gnashed their teeth over the tuition proposals Wednesday but acknowledged the universities have few alternatives unless the state can come up with additional funding. If the tax initiative fails, each university would lose the $125 million funding increase and an additional $250 million; the universities each lost $750 million in state funding last year.
"It certainly points out the seriousness of the fiscal situation we're in," said Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. "If this is going to happen, we really need to be serious as a state to get new revenue to help our students get through college."
The tuition hikes would be especially tough in the middle of the school year, said Sandy Baum, an economist and college-affordability expert.
Budget cuts, especially in the Cal State system, have angered students who are paying significantly higher tuition but are unable to get the classes they need to graduate quickly, she said.
"If everybody gets out in four years, that costs the state less," said Baum, a fellow at George Washington University and the author of the College Board's annual report on college prices. "You have to prioritize what you cut back on. Required classes should be at the bottom of the list."
UC administrators noted in a report to the Board of Regents that even the best-case scenario would require "moderate" tuition increases of about 6 percent in each of the next few years. Cal State tuition has more than doubled since 2007, and UC tuition is nearly double what it was five years ago.
The series of tuition hikes has put college out of reach for some students, said Assemblyman Jim Beall, D-San Jose.
"That's not the kind of public institution I'd like to have," said Beall, who has advocated for oil taxes and other new education funding. "We're going to let the voters decide if we want this catastrophic effect to happen."
Matt Krupnick covers higher education. Contact him at 510-208-6488. Follow him at Twitter.com/MattKrupnick.