Majority Leader Sponsors Legislation to Alleviate Student Fee Increases3 min read

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Students attending California public universities will dig deeper into their wallets next year as another round of fee increases will take effect. The UC Board of Regents approved a 9.3 percent jump for undergraduates and the California State University Board of Trustees is poised to approve a 10 percent increase for its students this week.

For UC undergrads, the increase will result in a $662 jolt. CSU students would see their fees climb by $306. For both systems, it marks the third straight year of fee increases and the seventh in the past 8 years. Students pay well over 100 percent more in fees today than they did 8 years ago.

UC President Mark Yudof said his system’s increases are “absolutely essential” because there is no other way to cover for inadequate funding.

But there is another way and it won’t sock students in their pocketbooks on a yearly basis. My bill, AB 656, would generate about $1 billion, with every penny going to higher education. It taxes oil companies, many of which enjoyed record-breaking profits last year.

This isn’t a liberal, blue-state idea. California is the only oil-producing state in the nation that doesn’t tax oil removed from the ground. Even Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promoted an oil levy when he introduced his budget in January.

AB 656 would maintain the state’s promise, originally spelled out in the Master Plan for Higher Education, that the doors to college should be open to every hard-working, qualified student in California.

AB 656 creates the California Higher Education Endowment Corporation, overseen by representatives from UC and CSU faculty, students, regents, legislators and the state treasurer. Members of the corporation would ensure that a small portion of oil companies’ enormous profits are directed to California’s two-and four-year colleges.

Faculty members who educate and train the next generation of teachers, nurses, engineers and other key workers in California’s economy, support this bill. They have first-hand experience with super-sized classes, poorly-equipped labs and classrooms in disrepair.

Students from Humboldt to Hayward and from Stanislaus to San Diego are also strongly in support. Annual fee increases place a heavier load on the shoulders of students who are often forced to meet the added cost by working more hours. That leaves less time for studying and classes. Students take longer to graduate, causing more campus overcrowding and fewer open classroom seats. Even worse, soaring fees will force some students to drop out, hurting their future career hopes and making California less competitive in the global economy.

These fee hikes come at a time when California’s need for college educated workers is outpacing the state’s ability to produce them. A Public Policy Institute of California study shows the percentage of workers with college degrees is expected to slow, just as a new generation reaches retirement age in 2025.

Without enough educated workers skilled in the high-tech industries that spark our economy, we will see further erosion in worker wages.

Higher education is the pipeline for the state’s future workforce. Why then do we seem intent to turn off the spigot? The share of the state budget devoted to higher education is sinking while the portion spent on the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has doubled in the past 20 years and our prisons are filled past capacity.

Most troubling is this – either this year or next, California will spend more money on prisons, than on all of higher education – the UC system, CSU system and every community college – combined. We are on pace to spend more General Fund dollars on incarcerating inmates than on teaching higher education students. That is not a sound investment strategy for future success, yet it is one we follow year after year.

Now is the time to try something new. If we want affordable access to higher education, then we must invest in it. AB 656 will marry our actions to our words and show California’s students that we our committed to their success.

If California is to remain the Golden State, we can do no less.

Alberto Torrico is Majority Leader of the California State Assembly.

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