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UC students must recognize roots of tuition hikes, take immediate action

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NOVEMBER 22, 2016

The regents are talking tuition hikes, and students’ social media accounts are ablaze. Spring in the UC system approaches and we’re back to the regularly scheduled programming.

Once again, students have to deal with the devastating news that tuition hikes might be on the horizon. It’s a familiar pattern. Continued lackluster state funding means the UC system has few options to keep itself afloat. In fact, the state Legislature and governor routinely send a clear message to college students across the state: You are not a priority.

When the economy faltered and California’s debt ballooned, public higher education was an easy target for cuts, helping to skirt a loss of federal funding or a violation of law. But myopic band-aid solutions ignore a detrimental impact on the future of California. Reinvestment in education would mean creating a population more readily able to solve the immense crises — such as climate change, integration into a globalized economy and structurally oppressive systems — our state faces. It’s the most important investment the state could make.

The UC president threatened drastic tuition hikes two years ago, and the governor countered her desperate move to compensate for state disinvestment by demanding a tuition freeze on top of increased enrollment. Students and their futures were used as political props in a game of chicken. We deserve better.

The bottom line is that when the UC administration is forced to increase tuition to keep the quality of education sound, demonizing UC President Janet Napolitano ignores the root of the problem. The state — not just its politicians, but its taxpayers — should be tasked with bringing the UC system to a solid financial footing that disinvestment stripped away.

But the state has placed the vast majority of that burden on the UC system, so the struggling university will inevitably feed off its students for money.

If anything, students should have to pay only the rates agreed upon when they committed to their UC campus. When students make college decisions based on tuition prices, they should feel safe knowing that those prices will hold for the next four years. Installing drastic, unexpected hikes during school means that students suddenly have to scramble to put together more loans, find more work hours or even drop out altogether.

The good news is that last time the UC Board of Regents proposed tuition hikes, they were stopped, although the onus was just shuffled around, placed on the backs of nonresident students. By taking direct action — occupying Wheeler Hall on the Berkeley campus, among other movements across the system — students effected change that resulted in a two-year tuition freeze.   

The regents will have more information about the hikes at their January meeting. The discussions, however, have already started. Students must amplify their voices before final deals with the state are brokered.

As the upper echelon of the UC administration mulls over future tuition hikes, students must, in turn, mull over their next course of action — not to say it hasn’t begun. Student activists protested the most recent regents meeting at which some talks centered on hikes. Action will continue.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

NOVEMBER 22, 2016