That is exactly the kind of budget roller coaster that Schwarzenegger's compact with the universities was designed to avoid, said Steve D. Boilard, director of the higher education unit of the state legislative analyst's office. The compact also made the implicit statement that students, not taxpayers, should start paying a larger portion of the fees at California's relatively inexpensive public universities, he said.
Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) said that a one-year promise of aid to UC and Cal State students would not provide families with enough financial certainty.
"Last time I looked, you go to school for four years," Perata said. "To say 'For one year we're not going to charge fees' hardly is a confidence builder. This probably sounds a lot better than it is, and it continues what we don't think we want to continue, which is going hand to mouth each year."
The multiyear compact included money for annual enrollment increases of 2.5%. In exchange, the universities agreed to try to use tax dollars more efficiently and to raise student fees, an average of 8% annually for undergraduates and about 10% for graduate students.
Gerald L. Parsky, chairman of the UC Board of Regents, applauded Schwarzenegger's move but noted that the regents' recent approval of the higher fees was provisional. "We really hoped that if there was more revenue coming in, that both the governor and the Legislature would consider rolling this back," Parsky said.
In addition to the buyout of the public university fee increase, Schwarzenegger also is proposing to increase the amount that new students can receive from the Cal Grant program to attend private colleges. For about 12,300 new students at private colleges, the maximum amount would increase to $9,708 from $8,322 -- for one year only.
Leaders of the state's two public university systems, who only last month approved student fee increases that would have taken effect next school year, said they were delighted by the news of the proposed buyout. The announcement, several said, also demonstrates that the compact they signed with Schwarzenegger is adaptable to the state's shifting economy.
"I guess it's a Christmas or Happy New Year present for all the students," Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed said. "It's good for the students, good for the governor and once again, he's just proved that the compact works."
Reed said the fees buyout, assuming it is approved by legislators, means that Cal State students "won't have to struggle so much, especially the working students. They'll have an easier time attending, and we'll see fewer students have to stop."
UC President Robert C. Dynes, reached on vacation in Canada, said he was pleased that the governor's proposal appeared to cover the planned fee increases for graduate and professional students, as well as undergraduates.
"One of our priorities has been to bring back and be much more competitive in helping our graduate students," Dynes said. "I'm also pleased that the governor has recognized the problem we've been facing with middle-class students, who are really feeling the pinch of these fee increases in a very serious way. My hat's off to him."
Times staff writer Jordan Rau contributed to this report. Salladay reported from Sacramento and Trounson from Los Angeles.