Should the UC system lose its autonomy and be under legislative control?

Aidan Backus, Online Editor

When one first looks at the numbers, it seems like University of California students are being charged fairly. In fact, only half of all graduates are in debt at all, and those that are, on average, owe less than $20,000 in debt upon graduation — less than the worth of a car, and nearly $10,000 less than the average American graduate.

However, these figures could very well change: last November, the UC Board of Regents, led by President Janet Napolitano, voted to raise tuition by 28 percent over four years, citing a lack of funds from the state government.

An increase in tuition can’t be that bad, right? Californians are still paying less, and if they can’t afford it, surely they can just attend a California State University, or even go to a junior college, such as Delta College.

Wrong. Californians voted for and passed Proposition 30 in 2012, otherwise known as Temporary Taxes to Fund Education, raising the state sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.50 percent with the profits to be disbursed to public higher education. Gov. Jerry Brown guaranteed that if Proposition 30 passed, UC tuition prices would be frozen until 2016. According to Brown in his 2014 State of the State Address, “I will not make the students of California the default financiers of our colleges and universities. … [T]he system, in its breadth and diversity … can well provide what Californians need and desire.”

As California taxpayers, UC students have the right to lower tuitions. The Board of Regents argues that they never agreed to the Proposition 30 deal, but according to board member Gavin Newsom, there was no “formal correspondence sent out to clarify that.”

Moreover, CSUs and junior colleges are notoriously impacted, with only 26 percent of Delta College students graduating. The CSU system takes pride in having nearly one-third of California’s workforce being alumni. But this comes at the price of overcrowding: only 8 percent of Sacramento State students graduate in four years.

University autonomy, which it has held since its founding in 1869, means that the California Constitution will make it “free from all political and sectarian influence.” This policy guarantees that the whims of politicians cannot distort the integrity of higher education and scientific and humanistic research.

However, SCA1, the bill to rein in university tuition, will not damage autonomy: the Board of Regents remains in power and is only restricted in that “legislative control that may be necessary to ensure the security of its funds and compliance with the terms of the endowment of the university.” In other words, the government cannot influence the UC system without proving that the Board has been using funding irresponsibly. And that may just be the case: Napolitano increased the pay of university chancellors, which already make over $300,000 a year, by 20 percent even as budget cuts reduced funding for the rest of the university’s faculty.

SCA1 has other hidden benefits. For example, because out-of-state students pay more for tuition, UCs have admitted far fewer California residents in recent years. One of the state legislature’s goals with SCA1 is to increase the tuition of out-of-state students even further, allowing the university to admit a larger proportion of Californians and still make similar profits.

The University of California has done a poor job of managing funds, and while they still have to report to the state government, it remains difficult to hold them accountable. A constitutional amendment does not infringe on the UC system’s autonomy while still requiring them to use funding responsibly and not overcharge students. As higher education becomes ever more important for functioning in society, a reduction in university tuition prevents an entire generation from being condemned to enter their adult lives in five-digit debt.