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UC regents reluctantly backing proposal for more student fee increases

Given California's financial condition, the board seems prepared to impose a mid-year increase in January and another next fall. Protests to the plan result in 14 arrests.

September 17, 2009|Larry Gordon

SAN FRANCISCO — Proposals to sharply raise student fees at University of California campuses this winter and again next fall, and to further restrict freshman enrollment, appeared to gain reluctant support Wednesday from the system's governing board. Yet, the plan also triggered angry opposition from students and employees that led to 14 arrests.

Meeting in San Francisco, some UC regents said they wondered whether it would be fair or even legal to raise fees in the middle of the academic year.

But given grim forecasts about the state budget, the board seemed prepared to impose a midyear increase of $558 in January, on top of the extra $662 in fees already approved for undergraduates this fall. The proposal calls for an additional increase of $1,956 to be charged next fall.

If the plan is approved in a vote scheduled for November, basic undergraduate fees for California residents next year would rise to about $10,300, not including room, board and other campus expenses. That figure would be 44% higher than in fall 2008.

In all, most UC undergraduates living in on-campus housing would pay more than $26,000 a year under the proposal, although officials said needy students would receive enough additional financial aid to cover the increases.

Regent Eddie Island, who has opposed previous fee increases, said he would support these because the 10-campus system already has cut staff pay, laid off employees and reduced class offerings.

"I'm sad to come to this position," he said.

David Partida, a UC Santa Cruz student majoring in community and legal studies, said higher fees would force some students to drop out and send prospective freshmen to community colleges rather than directly to UC schools.

"You are closing the door to so many students. And that's not right," Partida told regents in a public comment session.

However, UC President Mark G. Yudof said that without the fee increases, course offerings at the university would be reduced further, which would hurt students more in the long run by stretching out the time needed to complete degrees.

Yudof also said he did not want to extend current employee furloughs into the 2010-11 school year.

"Students ought to be angry about the fee increase proposal. . . . I'm angry about it too," Yudof said. "I like the old system: The closer it was to being free, the happier I'd be. But that's not the world I live in."

Near the beginning of the meeting at UC San Francisco's Mission Bay campus, about 100 demonstrators briefly disrupted the proceedings with chants. The protesters, mainly union activists, said they were upset about recent layoffs and the fee hike proposal.

Fourteen people were arrested and escorted out by UC police. They were cited for trespassing and unlawful assembly and released without bail, police said.

Such opposition to the UC administration is expected to be on display again on Sept. 24, when some faculty, staff and student groups are urging a systemwide walkout on the first day of classes for the fall quarter at many UC campuses.

In November, the regents also are expected to decide whether to cut freshman enrollment by an additional 2,300 students, similar to a reduction this year that brought the class size to 35,300.

In response to regents' concerns about timing, UC attorneys said that enough advance notice would be given to make the midyear hike legal. However, some regents also expressed worries about another Yudof proposal that calls for undergraduate upperclassmen who major in business or engineering to pay an extra $900 a year in addition to the other increases. The cost of educating those students is especially high, Yudof said.

Regent Charlene Zettel called the idea misguided given what she described as a shortage of engineers.

Under the fee proposal, professional school students in areas such as medicine, law and dentistry also would see steeper increases over the next three years. For example, by 2012-13, a UC Berkeley law student would pay $51,818 per year, or 40% more than this year, and a UCLA medical student would pay $34,616, or 33% more. Those figures do not include the costs of living and books.

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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