Issues to Watch in 2015: Higher Education

As University of California (UC) students and their families enjoyed the holidays together, many of them were likely fretting over the prospect that their tuition may increase for the upcoming 2015-16 school year. Under a plan adopted by the UC Board of Regents last month, UC tuition for California residents could increase by up to 5 percent annually for the next five years. That means that tuition could rise to nearly $13,500 by 2019-20, after adjusting for projected inflation, a significant increase from the current level of $12,192 (see chart).

December2014-blog_UC_tuition

 

UC’s new plan runs counter to a separate plan set forth by the Governor in 2013 to give the UC and the California State University (CSU) annual state funding increases for four consecutive years in exchange for freezing tuition for California residents through 2016-17 at 2011-12 levels. This year’s budget agreement, signed in June, continued that plan and included modest funding increases of about $140 million each for CSU and UC in 2014-15. In early 2014, the Governor proposed 4 percent state funding increases for both CSU and UC in 2015-16 and 2016-17, the third and fourth years in the plan. However, UC President Janet Napolitano insists that it is not enough and that tuition will have to go up unless the state provides additional funds. CSU has also signaled it needs additional state funding by recently reducing enrollment targets for 2015-16 and raising the possibility of reducing freshman admissions this coming fall unless additional funds are provided.

For both CSU and UC, two sources of revenue — state funding and tuition — make up the vast majority of their core funding, which are dollars that support activities related to their primary education functions. As detailed in our report earlier this year, From State to Student, state disinvestment in higher education in recent decades has resulted in steep tuition increases at both institutions and has shifted a larger share of higher education costs from the state to students and families. Since 1990-91, tuition and fees have more than tripled at CSU and more than quadrupled at UC, after adjusting for inflation. Direct General Fund spending on a per student basis at both CSU and UC has generally been on the decline during this period and, in recent years, has been at or near the lowest point in more than three decades, after adjusting for inflation.

When state funding for CSU and UC gets cut or does not keep up with increasing enrollment, as California’s population grows and its economy changes, these institutions have very few options available to them. One is to raise tuition rates. Another is to reduce enrollment growth, as UC and CSU have each proposed to do in 2015-16, unless they receive additional state funding.

This is an issue that we, and surely many students and families, will be watching closely as we approach the release of the Governor’s proposed 2015-16 budget in January. Stay tuned for more CBP analysis on this topic.