Wendy Yang is working as hard as she can to save enough money to someday attend California State University.
But the rise in tuition is outpacing her paycheck.
On Tuesday, the CSU’s Board of Trustees votes on a 12 percent hike for a semester that starts in less than three months. That’s $1,272 more than it cost two years ago, when Wang enrolled in community college in Cupertino, landed a job in Milpitas — and set her sights on CSU-Pomona.
With a constantly moving target, “my friends and I are worried,” Yang said. “I’m trying to save money, and I love my job. But it seems like every couple of months, fees keep going up.”
University of California students are facing an increase as well — their ninth in eight years — if the Board of Regents approves a 9.6 percent hike at Thursday’s meeting.
The schools say the hikes are necessary to help offset the $150 million in additional budget cuts approved for each system when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the new state budget last month. In turn, the schools say they will boost financial aid to help. In addition to tuition hikes, both systems will cut operational costs, on top of previous cuts.
UC is even taking more desperate measures, such as increasing the payout from endowments and drawing down from an employee/retiree healthcare reserve.
Students and their families say that the average business couldn’t sustain such sudden, unpredictable and significant cost increases — and similarly, it busts their well-planned household budgets. “We weren’t prepared for such relentless fee increases,” said Morgan Hill’s Eric Acedo, 20, an environmental studies major at San Jose State. He already works one part-time job, as an office assistant — but wants a second one.
“I work as many hours as possible, but I’m looking for another. Everybody I know is looking for a job,” he said. “I should be studying full-time.”
University educators and analysts say the year-to-year state budget cuts make it equally tough for them to plan for their future.
“Schools are doing lots of things to get through this emergency. But it is very hard to plan your fiscal future when things are changing,” said researcher John Douglass of UC Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Higher Education. As state support keeps receding, he said, “You’re always waiting for another shoe to drop.”
Last-minute fee hikes and emergency cost-cutting “are all just reactive,” said William G. Tierney, director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at the University of Southern California. “We haven’t heard a single thing from the governor about his vision for higher education — what he wants it to be.”
California is not alone in this mess: State support of higher education has sunk to the lowest level recorded in more than 30 years, according to a recent report by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, which tracks and reports these trends in annual financial reports.
Florida’s state schools are hiking tuition 15 percent — for the third year in a row. The University of Washington is considering a 20 percent boost in next fall’s tuition. Nevada’s Board of Regents voted earlier this month to raise tuition 13 percent at the state’s public colleges. At the University of Arizona, incoming freshmen are paying double what this spring’s graduating seniors paid — $10,035 a year, up from $5,037 four years ago.
More than two dozen governors are seeking slashed college funding, a possible $5 billion in cuts nationwide, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.
“But what’s unique in California is the magnitude of the crisis — the size of the budget deficit, combined with a growing population,” Douglass said. “This puts it in a league of its own.”
“We used to be leaders,” said William G. Tierney, director of the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at the University of Southern California. “It’s a tragedy.”
Tierney fears the growing debt on students who can least afford it. In 2009, Tierney remembers a UCLA student with no parental support needed to take out $3,567 in loans for a year of school; next fall, he has a student who will borrow $9,200.
Increasing fees mean that students may need to make tough choices about internships, which are often unpaid, said SJSU’s career center director Cheryl Allmen-Vinnedge.
“Many students would love to be able to accept an internship but perhaps it’s not as well-paying — so they’re forced to make choices between getting experience and putting food on the table,” she said. And if they’re sharing a house with roommates, to save money, “they have to think twice when they’re offered an internship in Washington D.C.”
“Many of ours students have several part-time jobs,” she added.
To help, Daniel Newell of SJSU’s Career Center has assembled a report compiling “job opportunities to meet rising student debt. With the downturn economy the past few years, rising tuition and debt, the college wanted to react to this,” he said.
Student groups are lobbying for a bill to make CSU and UC give students at least six months notice before raising tuition. But schools warn the bill could hurt students more than it would help, because campuses would need to reduce enrollment and close classes to cover revenue shortfalls.
“Tuition is the biggest lever you have” to quickly generate new revenue, when the state suddenly cuts support, Douglass said.
“We have been suffering a million small cuts,” he said, “but now we’re getting bludgeoned.”