It's not every day that University of California students tell UC President Mark Yudof to abolish tuition - and he says he'll consider it.
But that's exactly what happened at Wednesday's regents meeting at UC Riverside, as Yudof praised the students' tuition plan as "a constructive idea."
"We will give it a close look," he said. "I have directed Executive Vice President Nathan Brostrom and our best number crunchers to review it thoroughly."
The students say their creativity could be a windfall for UC and actually triple its revenue over 20 years.
Yudof's attention to the no-tuition proposal developed by UC Riverside students is extraordinary because he and the regents have come to depend on hefty annual tuition increases to make up for much of the funds they no longer receive from the state.
UC receives slightly more than $2 billion from the state's General Fund, about $1 billion less than it had been getting in recent years. Lawmakers cut $750 million from UC's budget this fiscal year alone.
University in crisis
As a result, the world-class public university system considers itself in a financial crisis: Course sections have been eliminated, maintenance drastically cut back, and staff laid off. UC is also providing millions of dollars in raises this year, which the regents have said are needed to maintain the quality of the university.
Today, as the regents conclude their two-day meeting, they expect to focus almost entirely on developing revenue sources beyond the state, and beyond tuition.
The students' proposal fits right in. Instead of paying tuition - currently at $12,192, not including mandatory fees, room, board or books - the "UC Student Investment Proposal" would require that students commit to paying 5 percent of their annual income for 20 years after graduating.
"Under this plan, no undergraduate student would have to worry about paying for their UC education while they are in school," Chris LoCascio, president of Fix UC - the group of UC Riverside students that developed the idea - said in a presentation to the regents.
The students calculate that, under the most conservative estimates, UC could triple its revenue over the next two decades to $4.6 billion. The plan would be phased in over several years, and students say UC would begin receiving more income from graduates than from tuition by year seven.
"The UC system will be far better off financially under this proposal," the seven-page report for the regents concludes.
The students say that the mean starting salary for a UC graduate is $46,356, so they based their revenue estimates on an income of $50,000.
Math behind the plan
Students who pay $2,500 a year - 5 percent of $50,000 - for 20 years, would end up paying $50,000 for their education, slightly more than the $48,768 they would pay over four years if UC tuition were frozen at its current level.
On the other hand, students earning $100,000 would pay $5,000 a year, or $100,000 for their education over two decades.
"That's still less than what they would pay for a private education," said LoCascio, editor in chief of the campus newspaper, the Highlander, who told the regents Tuesday that they "can't afford not to adopt the plan."
Brostrom and Patrick Lenz, two of UC's top financial executives, thought enough of the idea to visit LoCascio in his campus office Monday. "We had a fantastic discussion about it," LoCascio said.
Student Regent Alfredo Mireles called his proposal "exciting."
Not all students thought the plan appropriate.
"I'm against it," said Jessica Greenstreet, a politics and theater major at UC Santa Cruz who was not at the meeting. "Public education is a public good, and should be paid for by the public, through taxes."
In fact, Greenstreet's tuition is paid for through the GI Bill because her father was a Marine.
By contrast, Autumn Thomas had to drop out of UC Davis this year after only one semester because the tuition was more than she could afford.
"The idea sounds pretty reasonable to me," she said. "Actually, I think it sounds like a great plan."