Setting your own prices can be fun, such as choosing what to pay for Radiohead’s most recent album. But in the case of the University of California education system, allowing individual UC campuses to set their own tuition rate is calling for trouble.
UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau recently proposed changing the UC tuition policy to allow each of the 10 campuses to set their own tuition fees. In the report, titled “Access and Excellence,” Birgeneau wanted to reform the system by giving freedom to campuses to set their fees 25 percent above or below a mean tuition price that would be set by the UC Regents, the governing board that traditionally determines the cost of UC education.
His idea is an attempt to alleviate the burdens of decreases in state funding over the past 30 years, which are being faced again since Gov. Schwarzenegger is attempting to cut $65 million from the $3 billion allocated to the UC in the 2008-09 state budget to deal with the state’s current fiscal crisis.
According to the report, this is what it would look like: Berkeley could raise tuition fees to $2,000 per student, increasing the cost of attending the university by 10 percent. It would create $70 million in revenue per year, funds that Birgenaeu says could pay faculty salaries and provide more financial aid for low- to middle-income families. He added that the only people who pay the full increase would be families with incomes above $130,000.
Similar proposals have been tossed around before and refused for good reason. Tuition should not be relative to each UC because it would work contrary to the ideals the public university system was founded on — to provide education at reasonable costs to create equal access for the residents of California. Whether it be UC Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, or San Diego, UC students are paying the same standard university fee, currently set by the regents at about $6,600 a year. This way, students from varying economic backgrounds have a level chance of paying for the university they worked hard to get accepted to.
Birgeneau also states that a prestigious school like Berkeley would increase their tuition, while other campuses could decrease their tuition to “enhance their economic competitiveness.”
What it would really mean is that more competitive schools like UC Berkeley and UCLA would benefit financially from this move, while possibly shutting out potential students who cannot afford these fee increases. Developing campuses such as UC Merced might have to reduce their tuition, potentially sacrificing the growth of their university.
Aside from making education a class issue, this proposal is another way of asking UC students and their families to bail out the financially strained UC system. With the constant possibility of fee increases looming over students, which could be as high as 9.4 percent, Birgeneau’s proposal would actually reduce “access and excellence” in education.
Instead, the University of California should revise its spending practices, some of which are expensive and at times irresponsible. Take, for example, the six-figure salaries of university officials such as UC President Mark Yudof, who receives $828,000 in compensation a year, making him the third-highest-paid public university president in the nation.
Keep in mind the latest severance package scandal of Linda Williams, one of the 16 UC employees who received hefty pensions only to be rehired for jobs elsewhere in the system, in some cases with higher pay. Williams, a close aide of former UC president Robert Dynes, left her post at the Office of the President in Oakland to receive $100,202 as part of a severance package program to reduce UC payroll. She was then rehired only months later at UC Berkeley for $200,400.
Ultimately, it’s the students of the University of California who will be paying the price for the impractical decisions of the university.