By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Nov 13 (Reuters) - The new president of theUniversity of California proposed freezing the cost ofundergraduate tuition for another year to allow for an overhaulof how to pay for higher education in the state.
Janet Napolitano, the former U.S. homeland security chief,announced the proposal on Wednesday, just six weeks after takingover the 10-campus University of California system, saying itwould give administrators time to create a tuition system thatwould be less of a burden on families.
California has kept undergraduate tuition steady for thepast two years, as politicians wrangled over state funding andfamilies continued to struggle in the recovering economy.
"Tuition goes right to the heart of accessibility andaffordability, two of the university's guiding stars,"Napolitano said in remarks to regents in San Francisco.
Education advocates welcomed the move in a state where asmaller portion of high school graduates are going to university- in part because of ever-increasing fees. U.C. tuition has morethan tripled since 1990, topping out at around $12,000 per year.
Michele Siquieros, executive director of the Campaign forCollege Opportunity, said the freeze would be of little helpunless the state develops a long-term plan to both fund theuniversity and avoid spikes in tuition, as Napolitano has urged.
"When times have been really bad, we've increased tuitionfor students, and when times are better we roll back," said Siqueiros. "The roller coaster ride of fees for Californiastudents is really unfair."
In hiring Napolitano to run the prestigious system - whichincludes the University of California, Berkeley, and theUniversity of California, Los Angeles - state officials werecounting on her political savvy and fund-raising prowess torestore a system racked by years of budget cuts and turmoil.
Chosen from among more than 300 candidates, the 55-year-oldDemocrat took the helm of a university struggling to recoverfrom economic crises that have eaten away at the state budget onand off for nearly two decades.
Cuts of nearly $1 billion over the last five years led toseveral tuition increases as well as class shortages, and havestrained relations with faculty and staff through the impositionof furlough days and hiring freezes.
Napolitano has quickly moved to restore relationships withfaculty and students. In her first major action last month, sheannounced new programs aimed to help undocumented immigrants andgraduate students pay for their educations.
"We need to figure out, in the real world in which we live,how to bring clarity to, and reduce volatility in, thetuition-setting process. It's time for the university tocollaboratively come up with another way," Napolitano told theregents.
One possibility, Napolitano said, is "cohort tuition," inwhich fees are kept fairly steady through the four years thatany given freshman class spends in the system's 10 campuses.
The university would also embark on an efficiency review ofthe massive system's spending habits, led by her office,Napolitano said.
But she said the university will only be able to holdtuition steady if it brings in more money - both from privatesources and from the state. She said her administration wouldseek to increase the university's sources of revenue byincreasing public-private partnerships, philanthropic donations,grants and joint ventures.
She also nudged the state to provide additional funding, nowthat the economy is improving, and promised to examine ways toimprove the process by which community college students transferto the university.
"The State of California must do its part," Napolitano said."The university needs additional funding for UC's retirementplan and enrollment growth. Any successful tuition policy willrequire a clear, predictable partnership with the state."
California Governor Jerry Brown, who attended the regentsmeeting as an ex-officio member of the board, supports thetuition freeze, a spokesman told Reuters. The regents do notneed to approve a tuition freeze, Klein said.
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