When the Regents meet September 14th, they will discuss a multiyear funding proposal that will likely result in a series of large tuition increases over the next few years. The heart of the plan is found here: “Components of a multi-year plan would include the assumptions about efficiencies and revenue- generating strategies, and a proposal that, under the optimal scenario, would call for eight percent annual increases each in State funds and in tuition and fees through 2015-16. If the State is unable to meet its share of this cost, student fees would be raised further to make up the State’s deficit. Thus, if the State provides only four percent increases each year, student tuition and fees would increase by 12 percent annually. If the State provides no increase, student tuition and fees would increase by 16 percent annually. Incorporating this principle into a multi-year plan will make clear to all stakeholders that a failure to invest in the University will directly increase the amount students and their families pay to attend.” According to this structure, if the state does not increase funding over the next four years, tuition will go up 16% each year for a cumulative total of 81%.
The Regents will try to say that this plan is designed to put pressure on the state not to reduce funding for the UCs. But as students and precarious workers in the UCs, we don't see it this way. We see this instead as an attempt by the Regents to reconsolidate the 2004 Higher Education Compact, which committed the University to shift costs to students, workers, and their families, while gradually letting the state off the hook for public higher education. The Regents' new initiative, while ostensibly designed to put pressure on the state, imagines as its best case scenario a situation in which student fees increase by 8% annually, for the next four years. In other words, the Regents are actively endorsing and advocating for university privatization, the only question they entertain is how precipitous this shift should be.
By making a point of "pressuring" state politicians, the Regents hope that the real financial pressures they are exerting on students and workers fall out of the frame of public discourse. Debt is a disciplining mechanism; the steadily rising debt burdens envisioned by the Regents will ever more aggressively lock our futures into the vise grip of State agents and collections agencies. If we're able to pay back ballooning student debt, it means we've succeeded in disciplining ourselves to the dictates of whatever low-wage job we can find. And if we can't pay back our debt -- if we default -- the State has the power to freeze our bank accounts and deny us access to basic government services.
If and when students and workers at the UCs react to this latest turning of the screw with militant tactics -- with strikes, occupations, and attempts to shut down Regents meetings -- we will be reacting to real pressures imposed by the Regents and the State. They wield debt; but we still have our bodies and collective bonds with which to fight back.