UC regents approved 32 percent tuition fee hike

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Students, faculty and staff turned out at University of California Berkeley's Sproul Plaza on Wednesday, November 18, 2009 to protest tuition fee increases by the UC Board of Regents. Photo courtesy MCT
Students, faculty and staff turned out at University of California Berkeley's Sproul Plaza on Wednesday, November 18, 2009 to protest tuition fee increases by the UC Board of Regents. Photo courtesy MCT

SACRAMENTO (MCT) – Amid rowdy protests, a committee of the University of California regents voted Wednesday to raise student fees by 32 percent in two steps over the next year, bringing the annual cost of a UC education above $10,000 not including room, board or books.

Today, the full board is scheduled to vote on the plan, which also includes increases in financial aid.

Fourteen protesters – out of about 500 – were arrested at University of California-Los Angeles, where regents held their meeting. Roughly 1,000 protesters rallied at University of California-Berkeley, according to campus officials, and 300 demonstrated at University of California-Santa Cruz.

“Look at all these students who are here begging you to not raise the fees,” a UCLA student said to the board. “We cannot afford it.”

College students across the country are paying higher tuitions, as state coffers shrink with the weak economy. But nowhere are the increases as extreme as in California, said Pat Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

UC’s latest fee increase would put it in line with increases at California’s other higher education systems. This summer, the California State University raised fees by 32 percent, and community college fees went up 30

In the rest of the country, Callan said, public universities are increasing fees by an average of 6.5 percent.

“California will be by far the most draconian as far as raising fees and turning people away,” he said.

The UC regents committee approved a budget proposal Wednesday that calls for slashing freshman enrollment by 2,300 students if the university doesn’t get the $913 million funding increase it’s requesting from the state.

“While we have a very aggressive plan, our challenge is going to be overwhelming in trying to get this revenue from the state,” said Patrick Lenz, UC’s vice president for budget.

As students and regents debated the fee increase Wednesday, California’s legislative analyst announced that the state faces a $20.7 billion deficit through June 2011. That news prompted Russell Gould, chairman of the
regents, to tell students there was no way to avoid raising fees.

“We’re absolutely boxed in,” he said.

Even regent Eddie Island, who usually votes against fee increases with passionate testimony, said he would vote to raise fees this time because the state’s financial situation is dire.

“I understand the burden that student fee increase places on students and their families. We get that,” Island said. “But we also get the responsibility we have to the university and the state of California.”

Students and workers interrupted the meeting several times with taunts, shouts and chants. During the presentation on fee increases, the crowd sang “We shall overcome” until police escorted them out of the room.

The panel’s plan calls for a 15 percent fee increase in January and another 15 percent increase in summer. If passed, that means students will pay an additional $585 for the rest of this school year and an additional $1,344 next year. By the fall, systemwide fees would total $10,302 a year. Students also must pay campus fees that amount to about $985. Room, board and books can cost another $15,000 or more.

The regents committee also approved raising fees at 44 professional schools, such as law, medicine and business. Costs there would go up between 7 percent and 65 percent, depending on the program.

While students criticized UC for raising fees and workers blasted the university for layoffs and furloughs, UC leaders urged all of them to turn their anger toward state lawmakers, who cut UC’s funding by 20 percent earlier this year, prompting the fee hikes and salary cuts.

They discussed plans for a major advocacy campaign during the next state budget cycle, saying UC needs more funding to end furloughs, expand library hours and begin hiring again.

John Hart and his wife are California State University-Sacramento workers with a daughter who is a freshman at Berkeley. With both of them taking furloughs, Hart said, the higher fees will make finances tight in their household.

They’re no longer eating dinner out or planning any trips. But Hart said he’s willing to pay to keep UC education top-notch.

“There’s no question we would do whatever it takes to stay there,” he said. “They’ve got to get their money somehow, from somewhere.”

The increased fees will generate more than $505 million for UC. One-third of that will be devoted to financial aid. The regents panel voted Wednesday to increase the number of students who qualify for UC’s Blue and Gold scholarship by raising the annual family income cap from $60,000 a year to $70,000.

UC President Mark Yudof said that new federal tax credits will cover the increased fees for most students whose families make up to $180,000 a year.

“That is remarkable,” he said.

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