Assembly Higher Ed Committee supports tuition and fee moratorium bill, 11-0

A strong message was sent by the unanimous, bi-partisan 11-0 vote of the Assembly Higher Education Committee on Tuesday. The vote send AB 393: The Student Protection Act to the Appropriations Committee, the next step in putting a CSU student tuition freeze into law.

The CFA-sponsored AB 393 would freeze CSU tuition and community college enrollment fees, and call on the UC Regents to freeze UC tuition, too.

The bill became an important part of the legislature’s debate over the 2017-18 state budget in March when the CSU Board of Trustees, on a rare divided 11-8 vote, decided to raise CSU tuition another 5%.

The Trustees tempered that decision with a promise to roll back the tuition hike if the 2017-18 state budget signed into law includes the entire $324.9 million state funding increase the Trustees requested last November. The governor put in his January budget plan a $157.2 million increase in CSU funding, quite a bit short. Now, the ball is in the legislature’s court.

As CFA President Jennifer Eagan explained to committee members who worried a legislature-mandated tuition freeze might step on the authority of campus management, “The Trustees have put it in the hands of the legislature; they abdicated that responsibility to you.”

The bill author, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, opened up the AB 393 hearing by explaining, “Our hope is to protect students from debt, the increasing debt students confront trying to get a college degree.”

She said, “Our Master Plan (for Higher Education) seems to be getting further and further away and we have students asking, with the debt today, is it even feasible to attend college.” 

Quirk-Silva said she hopes the bill opens a conversation about rising costs that will compel the legislature and campus administrations to find the ways to fully fund California’s system of higher education.

Isaiah de la Cruz, a CSU East Bay sophomore, appealed to the committee, which has members who attended public universities in previous, more affordable eras. “It is in the best interest of the state to invest in its future,” he said. As a child he was told “college is the solution and I still believe it. …But, education is reaching a status of unaffordability.”

CFA President Jennifer Eagan tied her testimony to improved state funding for the CSU.

Referring to the Trustees who voted against the tuition increase, she said:

“They recognized we can’t keep going back to the students to fund the system. It is not a sustainable model. It has created a crisis. Funding has been put on the backs of students combined with massive amounts of part-time hiring of faculty. We can’t truly say we have a public higher education system.

“Our great hope is that the CSU receives the full funding the university asked for this year and that this bill AB 393 passes to create some breathing room for students and their families. And, that CFA and other stakeholders in public higher education will help the legislature figure out a path to restoring much needed funding to keep the system going forward.

“We want to find a model that is, in fact, sustainable for the future so that California’s economy can remain strong. AB 393 is a first step in that process.”

A long line of supporters asked the committee to pass the bill, including the California Labor Federation, the California Federation of Teachers, the Faculty Association of the California Community Colleges, CWA, SEIU, and many individual students. Students for Quality Education brought pages of signatures from students supporting the tuition freeze.

Republican Assemblymember Catherine Baker announced during the hearing that she adds her name to the list of AB 393 co-authors.

CSU and UC lobbyists spoke against AB 393, saying it will tie the hands of management, and they claimed that management wants to hire more faculty and offer more courses.

PHOTO: At a crowded Assembly hearing on AB 393, CSU East Bay student Erika Jimenez, presented signatures collected by Students for Quality Education on petitions against tuition increases.