University of California system in need of its own financial aid 

Laying blame on the state while searching for solutions, UC regents and other officials discussed a doomsday scenario of skyrocketing tuition Thursday as funding shortfalls continue to mount.

Tuition at University of California campuses could rise 16 percent a year for four years if the state does not provide adequate funding, administrators said during the Board of Regents’ September meeting at UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus.

“Without the assurance of long-term funding, campuses are hindered in many ways,” university Vice President Patrick Lenz told regents, explaining that financial uncertainty made it difficult for campus leaders to expand programs or hire tenure-track faculty.

In a proposed four-year budget plan, administrators offered different scenarios for dealing with a projected $2.5 billion shortfall. The administration can cover $1 billion through budget cuts, philanthropy and other means.

Depending on whether the state increases support for the 10-campus system by 8 percent, 4 percent or not at all, tuition would rise 8 percent, 12 percent or 16 percent.

“I think it’s very important for students and parents to know what the future could look like,” said Sherry Lansing, the regents’ chairwoman. “This scenario is not what we want. There’s not a person around the table that wants to raise tuition.”

Regents heaped scorn on California legislators for cutting subsidies to the university system.

“I have no faith in Sacramento to do the right thing,” Regent Richard Blum said.

Even Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, an ex-officio member of the board of regents, said he had “no faith and confidence in the state.”

“We’re going to be stuck here for a number of years,” Newsom said of the state’s ongoing budget crisis. “So what about a new source of funding?”

In an impassioned discussion, several regents proposed raising funds from corporate donors and wealthy alumni rather than increasing tuition. Others suggested a ballot measure and called on Californians to lobby their legislators to increase funding for higher education.

But some were skeptical that such pressure would be effective.

“Get real,” Regent David Crane said. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking the Legislature is going to turn around, or you’ll be waiting for Godot.”

The regents ended the meeting determined to form subcommittees that would look into sources of more money.

Should they not find enough to plug their budget gap, the proposed four-year spending plan could be voted into action in November.

UC has not had consistent support from the state since the early 1990s. Several years ago, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a six-year compact with the university, promising adequate funding to support growing enrollment. But grappling with its own fiscal crisis, the state backed away from that promise in 2008.

acrawford@sfexaminer.com

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