By Terence Chea
SAN FRANCISCO — After years of difficult budget cuts, Gov. Jerry Brown is offering more money to California’s public colleges and universities. In return, he wants them to hold down costs, expand online learning and stop raising tuition, which has increased sharply in recent years.
The Democratic governor released a 2013-2014 budget plan this week that boosts funding for K-12 schools and higher education, thanks in part to voter approval in November of Proposition 30, which temporarily raises sales and income taxes.
College and university leaders welcomed the increased funding, saying the money would help reverse years of cuts. So far, no tuition hikes are on the table.
“The proposed budget heads us in the right direction,” said CSU Chancellor Timothy White.
The University of California and California State University systems would each receive an additional $250 million, which includes $125 million promised for not raising tuition this academic year. California Community Colleges, which has 112 campuses, would get a $197 million boost.
Brown proposed a plan to steadily increase funding for the three systems over the next four years, but only if they freeze fees at current levels, noting that UC and CSU tuition has nearly doubled over the past five years.
The governor said he plans to attend meetings of the UC Board of Regents and CSU Board of Trustees over the next two weeks to urge university administrators to spend within their means.
“The people in the university are going to have to find a way to do the same thing with fewer growing resources than they’re used to,” Brown told reporters Thursday. “Can we turn down this relentless increase in spending that is so much higher than the cost of living?”
Brown wants colleges and universities to expand the number of online courses they offer to reduce costs and allow more students to get the classes they need to graduate.
His budget plan calls for UC and CSU to each spend $10 million to develop digital versions of high-demand courses — and $17 million for the community college system to develop a “virtual campus” of 250 new online courses.
“Deploy your teaching resources more effectively,” Brown said. “We want more kids to be able to get through school quicker.”
Brown’s budget proposes caps on the number of classes students can take at in-state tuition levels, a policy aimed at encouraging so-called super seniors to complete their degrees faster.
UC and CSU students would be limited to 270 quarter units or 180 semester units — 50 percent more than the minimums needed to graduate. Community college students would be limited to 90 units. Those thresholds would fall in subsequent years.
State lawmakers also warned colleges and universities against raising tuition when the state gives them more money.
UC and CSU cannot “come back and find ways to raise fees on students when the circumstances don’t warrant it, and clearly the circumstances don’t warrant it,” said Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles.
The state Legislature sets fees for California Community Colleges, and there are no proposals to raise them next school year, said spokeswoman Paige Marlatt Dorr.
UC officials noted the 10-campus system currently receives about $1 billion less — about 30 percent — in state funding than it received five years ago. Tuition increases only made up 38 percent of that shortfall, with the rest covered by spending cuts, restructuring operations, fundraising and other revenue sources.
“At this time there are no plans to propose a tuition increase,” UC spokesman Steve Montiel said Friday. He added that the goal is to avoid an increase this fall, but “it’s hard to say anything definitive at this point because it’s early in the budget process.”
CSU Chancellor White said the 23-campus system would continue its efforts to operate more efficiently, noting that state funding for the system also has declined more than 30 percent over the past five years.
“Tuition is really the last resort,” CSU spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp said Friday. “We wouldn’t increase tuition unless we were forced to, and there’s no real reason to do so at this point.”