Calif. lawmakers address college access; Senate leader seeks higher out-of-state rates

Associated Press

Democrats in the state Senate released a plan Tuesday to avoid tuition increases at the University of California by directing more money to the system and charging a higher rate to out-of-state students.

The proposal released by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon focuses on increasing slots at both the UC and California State University systems while improving degree-completion times.

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His plan calls for increasing UC enrollment by 5,000 and CSU enrollment by 10,500 for the 2015-16 school year as a way to boost the number of transfers allowed from community colleges.

The proposal came amid rising anger over a decision by the UC Board of Regents to increase tuition as much as 5 percent each of the next five years unless the state approves more money for the 10-campus system.

Hundreds of students have participated in protests at various campuses, with University of California, Berkeley students planning another rally later Tuesday.

The plan by de Leon, D-Los Angeles, follows one announced Monday by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins. She called for implementing so-called zero-based budgeting for the UC, a process that would force the university each year to justify its spending. Lawmakers have been critical of the UC system in part because they say its board has resisted efforts to reduce costs.

Atkins, D-San Diego, also released an earlier proposal calling for the repeal of the tuition increases. Her plan calls for adding $50 million to the UC system's budget from the state's general fund and increasing Cal Grant financial aid.

Tuition has been frozen at the University of California for the past three years following a series of increases that have nearly doubled rates since 2006. Under the new plan, the average annual cost for a California resident would increase by $612 next fall, to $12,804. The total cost would grow to $15,564 by fall 2019.

The issue has grown particularly contentious, with the Board of Regents' vote drawing criticism from Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, legislative leaders and students.

De Leon said he wants to improve access to colleges, make them more affordable and help students finish degrees.

While his plan calls for increasing state funding, it also would redirect a middle class scholarship account created by his political rival, former Assembly Speaker John Perez, who is termed out of office but was recently appointed to the UC board by the governor.

De Leon says his plan would use the scholarship money more efficiently to benefit a larger group of students. It would be put into the larger pool of higher education funding and could be used, for example, to add course offerings.

Too many California students are failing to graduate in a timely manner, according to the Campaign for College Opportunity, a coalition backed by business, labor and civic organizations to increase efficiency in higher education.

The group says 84 percent of students graduate from the UC system after six years, 51 percent graduate from CSUs after six years and just 49 percent graduate from community colleges after six years.