Plan to eliminate tuition costs gaining local support

By Lorenzo Morotti, Associate Editor

As tuition hikes are being discussed by UC and CSU governance boards for the first time since 2011, a report issued by Reclaim California Higher Education poses that eliminating tuition cost for students is a more practical solution.

So far the report, created by a working group of six professors and administrators, has been presented to the UC Board of Regents and the Contra Costa Community College District Governing Board meetings last week.

“This tax would just charge California residents,” district United Faculty Executive Director Jeffery Michels said during a phone interview just after the initial press release the non-profit’s headquarters in Berkeley.

“But considering how much it costs to send your kids to college, paying about $2,000 a year in my case for my children, potentially their children and my children’s children to be free from paying expensive college tuition sounds like a good investment to me.”

The $48 Fix: Reclaiming California’s Master Plan for Higher Education intends to reduce the budget deficit in all three segments of the higher education system, California community colleges included, to pre-2000 levels.

Eliminating student debt for the 2016-17 academic year would cost taxpayers $9.43 billion, according to the report.

This would require that the state charge an income tax to individuals or families who earn less than $39,999 annually no more than $48 a year, while citizens earning $40,000 to $89,000 would start at about $70 and cap at $308.

People who earn 500,000 to 999,999 would pay $7,104 while people who make more than $1 million would be required to dole $50,239.

Reclaiming California Higher Education Coalition Director Amy Hines-Shaikh said the working group began working on this report on September 2015, a year after the coalition formed.

“We have not heard a whole lot in terms of feedback from administrators,” Hines-Shaikh said. “(Michels) is our liaison with the Contra Costa Community College District’s administration. Being a member of one of our partner organizations endorsing the report we asked him to read how we plan to regain public ownership of the system.”

Michels said while he was not part of the working group he did attend the press release at the non-profit organization’s headquarters on Shattuck on Wednesday.

Foothill-De Anza Faculty Association President Richard Hansen, part of the working group, said restoring the budget to before the economic collapse would mean reversing California Community College Chancellor’s Office $35 increase to tuition costs since 2000 when the per unit cost was $11.

Instead of paying $132 for 12 units, full-time load, students now pay $552 per semester.

Hansen said while the community college system is funded different than the UC or CSU system it has strayed further away from inclusivity and become a pipeline to four-year institutions.

He said the Chancellor’s Office funds its 113 campuses through a combination of state funding based on unit load per district and local property taxes through Proposition 98.

“When the state was in bad economic shape the Chancellor’s Office raised the fee to be able to compete in the market,” Hansen said. “When the economy gets better fees usually go down, but that has not happened in a long time. Now the price is $46 per unit and it has been that way since 2012.

“The cost per unit has gone up 300 percent since 2000.”

Before 1984, and the passing of the Donahoe Act, community colleges did not charge tuition.

Council of University of California Faculty Associations President Stanton Glantz said, “The ideology driving community colleges under the original 1960 Master Plan, and other institutions of higher education, was to provide a public service at zero or minimal cost to students.

“But that changed under the (former governor Ronald) Reagan administration. Education was slowly commercialized into another product for consumers on the free-market.”

He presented to the UC Board of Regents on Jan. 25 regarding the need to revert to applying an altruistic methodology to higher education listed in the $48 Fix report.

“It’s a totally different mentality than before,” Glantz said. “Now community colleges function to get people transfered in a hurry. While don’t get me wrong, being efficient is good but  you can over do efficiency. Students need time to figure out what career the want.

“The strongest work, in all facets of society, is done by people who took a while to figure things out.”

Hansen said despite the differences in funding and course offerings between community colleges, UCs, CSUs and K-12 systems, they are inherently tied to the success of students and California’s economic stability as it heads into an uncertain future with low retention rates and high cost to families.

CCC President Mojdeh Mehdizadeh said the Governing Board listened to Michels highlight the report during the public comment session on Wednesday.

“The board thanked Jeff for bringing the report to their attention and starting the discussion,” Mehdizadeh said. “This is an item that could be brought back to discussion if there is enough interest.”

District Communications and Community Relations Director Tim Leong said it is challenging for any plan seeking to eliminate tuition costs to be ratified by conservatives.

“We keep storing money away for a rainy day fund and bracing for not only a recession but what are the potential impacts that come with California going against the grain of the new presidential administration’s policies,” Leong said.  “And anything that requires new revenue is going to be really difficult to get approved through the legislature, but nevertheless anything is possible.”