A San Francisco Superior Court judge has ordered the University of California to pay back $38 million in improperly raised fees for nearly 3,000 graduate students.
Because students had “reasonably believed and reasonably expected” that their professional degree fees would remain the same during their enrollment, the judge ruled that the fee increases the students were subject to were unlawful.
The case applies to the entering class of 2003 at UC professional schools. Superior Court Judge John Munter ruled “the university had promised students on UC websites that their fees would remain the same during their years at the graduate schools.”
Fees have increased for students throughout the UC system, but graduate students have been particularly affected. Annual increases have brought education costs at UC Berkeley’s law and business schools, for example, to nearly $40,000 per year.
A nearly identical case occurred in 2007, when the University of California paid nearly $42 million after an appeals court ruled that they had promised students stable fees. Judge Munter relied heavily on this case in considering the current case.
“The University of California’s position is that we don’t owe money,” said UC attorney Christopher Patti. “There was never a promise to this group of students. The language on the website applied to an earlier group of students.”
Pattie said that the University of California is looking into an appeal, though the case isn’t final yet.
Though students in the UC Davis Graduate Studies program aren’t subject to professional school fees that students in veterinary, medical or law school are, they have also been affected by fee increases. The UCD Office of Graduate Studies takes precaution not to promise students fee stability.
“We do not promise that there will be no increases in fees,” said Dean of Graduate Studies Jeffrey Gibeling. He pointed out a disclaimer on their website that reads, “Because fees are subject to gubernatorial, legislative and regental action, fees may change without notice. The amounts on the following fees pages represent fees as currently estimated.”
Many students are also concerned that their financial plan at the start of their education may be thwarted unexpectedly by fee increases.
“Graduate students are concerned about the fee increases in part for themselves but in part over the implications for the future of public higher education,” Gibeling said. “For those students who pay their own fees, they are expected to pay the current amount however it has changed during the time they are students. The other sources of funds that pay fees on behalf of the students must also absorb the extra cost as necessary.”
SARAH HANSEL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.