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PD Editorial: Wrong time to raise fees at UC, CSU

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks during the UC Board of Regents meeting Wednesday in San Francisco.

STEVEN CHIU / Associated Press
Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 6:02 p.m.

Chalk one up to prudence: A week after state voters approved a tax increase, the leaders of California's university systems tabled proposals to impose new fees.

On Tuesday, University of California regents dropped plans to charge more for certain graduate and professional programs. On the same day, California State University trustees postponed action on proposed penalties for students who put off graduation, take excessive course loads or repeat classes.

Gov. Jerry Brown personally attended meetings of both governing boards this week, urging a hard line on costs and a moratorium on tuition increases.

“Right after the election is no time to be raising fees of any kind,” he told CSU trustees at a meeting in Long Beach. “Voters gave us a billion dollars in new revenues, and now we have to use that very judiciously.”

Brown is right. He and his allies targeted university campuses during the Proposition 30 campaign, and students responded. In pre-election polls, support was strongest among voters 18-29. And, according to Election Day exit polls, younger voters turned out in force, contributing to an unexpectedly easy victory for Proposition 30, which temporarily increases income taxes on the wealthy and sales taxes for all.

The failure of Proposition 30 would have triggered $250 million in midyear budget cuts for each university. CSU students were promised a $249 refund if it passed. To turn around and create a new fee a week after the election would have been a slap in the face.

CSU Chancellor Charles Reed said the proposed fees weren't intended to raise revenue. Rather, they were supposed to encourage students to complete their degrees and move on, making way for other students.

That's a legitimate concern, and CSU officials should consider alternatives to raising fees in pursuit of their goal.

Brown urged UC regents to look at expanding online offering to make room for more students. That also may be an option at CSU. The trustees also should look at how California's community colleges addressed concerns that students who put off graduation make it harder for others to complete their required courses.

Under the new community college policy, students who have completed their graduation requirements drop to the bottom of the priority list if they enroll in additional classes. CSU's fee-based approach may have weeded out those “super-seniors” who couldn't afford to pay out-of-state tuition rates for additional classes, but affluent students still could have blocked the path of classmates trying to graduate.

Another provision of Reed's plan seems contrary to the university's objective. Assessing a surcharge for taking a large courseload (more than 18 units) could discourage students trying to finish a degree early, which also clears space for other students seeking classes.

Reed is retiring at the end of the year, and CSU will welcome a new chancellor — Timothy P. White, who is presently the chancellor at UC Riverside. He has a long list of challenges ahead, and CSUtrustees should add one more: finding a better way to ensure that students complete their courses and graduate in a timely manner.

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