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UC, CSU May Impose Even Larger Fee Hikes

Systems drop current proposed increases to weigh Legislature's plans and Davis' upcoming revision. Enrollment caps are also possible.

May 10, 2003|Stuart Silverstein | Times Staff Writer

Leaders of California's two state university systems, who were set to approve education fee increases topping 20% next week, withdrew those proposals Friday because they said they might need to impose even bigger hikes.

Officials with the University of California and California State University systems cited recent legislative proposals to cut $150 million to $600 million overall from their budgets for the coming year. That would be on top of the more than $500 million in reductions proposed by the Davis administration in January.

To cope with deeper cutbacks, "we are at the point where we have to reduce enrollment or increase fees even more," said Richard P. West, executive vice chancellor and chief financial officer for the CSU system.

West estimated that CSU undergraduates could face new systemwide fee hikes of more than 35%, or roughly $600 a year. With an increase of that size, systemwide and campus fees, not counting expenses for room and board, would average nearly $2,700 for CSU undergraduates who are California residents.

UC officials, who were already proposing a 24% boost in their main systemwide fees, did not say how much higher their charges might go. A 24% boost in the UC system would translate into $795 a year more in charges for undergraduates. That would bring UC's overall fees for California-resident undergraduates to an average of $5,082, excluding room and board and mandatory health insurance.

"The current financial circumstances leave us very few options," said Judith Hopkinson, chairwoman of the UC Board of Regents' finance committee.

Officials said they are also exploring enrollment caps and, in the case of CSU, enrollment reductions. The earliest those measures could be taken would be for the 2004-05 school year.

Officials said they decided Friday to hold off on setting new fees to further assess lawmakers' plans and to evaluate the revised budget proposal due Wednesday from Gov. Gray Davis.

They also said they did not want to approve a succession of new increases, particularly since they already imposed hikes of 10% to 15% just five months ago.

Davis and state legislators are struggling to close a California budget shortfall of $35 billion, and officials have been trying to squeeze some savings from the public higher education systems.

Student groups are planning to stage protests against fee increases Wednesday at the UC regents' meeting in San Francisco and the CSU trustees' meeting in Long Beach. They said they were surprised by the news that the increases might grow.

For many students, particularly those from middle-income households who receive little or no financial aid, "we're going to see a continuation of what we've seen in the last 10 years, where students are taking out more loans, graduating more in debt and working more hours, which is a benefit to no one," said Adam Miller, executive director of the University of California Students Assn.

Artemio Pimentel, chairman of the California State Students Assn. and a graduate student in public policy at Cal State Sacramento, said any fee increase in the CSU system "is going to affect the working-class student, the single-mother student -- every student that's had to work to get through college."

Hopkinson and other officials with UC or CSU said that even with the likely fee increases, their systems will remain less expensive than comparable universities around the country. Officials also said that about one-third of the revenue from fee increases would go into financial aid, shielding the lowest-income students from financial harm.

Advocates for students, however, said that they face a higher cost of living in California, particularly in urban areas. In addition, they said some low-income students don't get financial aid they are entitled to because they don't realize they are eligible. Other modest-income students sometimes earn slightly too much to qualify for aid.

Preliminary proposals to cap or reduce enrollment at the two university systems would also probably prove controversial, given the state's rising numbers of college-age people. According to the latest forecast by the California Postsecondary Education Commission, the number of students seeking an education at a public college or university in California will jump to 2.7 million by 2010, capping a 12-year surge of about 36%.

The nine-campus UC system serves about 200,000 students, and the 23-campus CSU system, the nation's biggest, has a little more than 407,000 students.

California's community colleges, the least expensive in the nation, are also girding for fee increases later this year. The governor's January budget proposed boosting fees from the current $11 per credit hour to $24, and Republicans have floated a proposal to push the level up to $26. The Legislature sets community college fees.

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