In a long anticipated decision, the University of California Board of Regents voted to raise student fees by 9.3 percent, or $662 per year, last week.
The increase – the sixth in seven years – brings the average systemwide fee for undergraduates to $8,720 per year including individual campus based fees.
Regents pointed to the pattern of decreased state support to the university as the reason for the increase. Since 1990, the state’s per student support to the UC has fallen by nearly 40 percent, adjusted for inflation. This year’s adopted state budget cut $115 million from the university, increasing its budget shortfall over the next two years to $450 million.
UC President Mark G. Yudof said increasing student fees was the only way to preserve quality.
“We don’t have to enact this fee increase, but you will not have access to classes or student services,” he said. “If this does not pass, we will start paring back classes, because I don’t know where else to go.“
The regents voted 17 to 4 to raise fees, with Regents Eddie Island, Odessa Johnson, Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi and Student Regent D’Artagnan Scorza dissenting.
“We can call this a student fee, but for the fourth year in a row, it’s really yet another tax on students that discourages qualified, hard-working high school graduates from entering the University of California,” said Lt. Governor John Garamendi in a statement.
The UC Davis campus is facing a $39 million shortfall in its overall $590 million budget. Student fees and fees from being overenrolled will offset approximately $14 million of the deficit, said Kelly Ratliff, associate vice chancellor for budget resource management.
“It’s completely related to funding challenges from the state,” Ratliff said. “At this stage because there’s so much uncertainty with the state, we’re going with our best planning information.“
Ratliff said she doesn’t see the decreased funding as a sign that the state is placing the UC as a lower priority.
“I think that the university is being cut just like every other state agency, so if feels like it’s part of the overall crisis the state is facing,” she said.
Officials pointed to increased financial aid to low and middle income families as mitigating the fee hike, especially the new Blue and Gold Plan that helps cover fees for California families who earn less than $60,000 per year. Federal stimulus funds will also provide more Pell Grant money along with a Cal Grant increase of $27 million.
“While there is never a right time for a fee increase, especially during an economic downturn when families are facing hardships and uncertainty, I want to reassure our students that this year we will have an extraordinary amount of additional financial resources available to cover the higher fees,” Yudof said in a statement.
Regents also attempted to put the increase in context with other public universities by comparing UC fees to the University of Illinois at $12,106 per year and University of Michigan at $11,738 per year. But Lucero Chavez, a UC Berkeley law student and president of the UC Student Association, said that fees coupled with high living costs make the UC one of the nation’s most expensive public research universities.
Despite the regents‘ attempts to downplay the effects of the increase, student representatives were uniformly against it.
“There are only so many more steps before we privatize the university and that’s not where we want to go,” Chavez said.
Chavez said she fears that despite the financial aid increases, low and middle-income families will be scared off by “sticker shock.“
The university estimates the fee hikes will generate approximately $152 million, a third of which will reserved to provide additional financial aid.
“I feel like I’m witnessing the death of a great institution,” said Regent Eddie Island. “We ought to pause and say, ‘where are we going with this?’ We know this isn’t the last student fee increase. Are we giving up on affordability? Are we giving up on access? And what’s the effect on diversity?”
ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at email@example.com.