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UC fee raises go beyond reason

Wednesday, November 18, 2009
San Francisco Chronicle

University of California regents are about to consider raising - or, in some cases, initiating - surcharges on certain graduate programs. This plan, while inevitable in the face of shrinking state support, is regrettable in many ways.

In 24 of those programs, the increases will violate UC policy and a long-standing source of pride and opportunity for Californians: The notion that admission to a top-flight public university was a relative bargain here. In-state graduate students now pay a baseline fee of about $10,000, with higher fees on certain professional schools.

Those professional fees are about to go up dramatically next fall, if the regents approve these surcharges. For example, environmental design students at Berkeley will pay an additional $6,000 professional fee - lifting the program's total cost to $20,172, higher than competing programs at Penn State or the University of Virginia.

In-state professional fees for UCSF's dentistry program will rise 15 percent (to $22,800); Berkeley's optometry program 10 percent (to $13,220) and the UC Berkeley School of Law by 22 percent (to $31,355).

All of these increases will impose strains on California families at a time when many are struggling in the recession. Some of those students who go on to high-paying careers in law or medicine will be able to handle the higher debt load coming out of school. Attorneys who go into lower-paying public-interest work may qualify for loan-forgiveness programs.

However, one of the increases stands out as particularly onerous - and counter to the state's interest - because of the absence of any linkage with the economic value of the degree: Initiation of a professional fee (of $4,000) for the social welfare program.

This surcharge could deter talented students from going into social work at a time when California has been making strides in reforming its foster-care system - and a blue-ribbon commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno identified reduction of social-worker caseloads as a priority.

Social workers, with median annual incomes of $51,000, rank last in compensation among graduates of the 44 professional degree programs. The last thing a state concerned about child welfare should be doing is saddling would-be professionals with untenable debt.

"Social workers have a big heart, but they also have a big brain," said Amy Lemley, policy director of the John Burton Foundation, which helps homeless youth.

The regents need to be extremely judicious in raising these professional fees on graduate students. The proposal to add $4,000 a year to the burden of students who want to take on the low paid but vitally important work of rescuing our most vulnerable children is an example of one that makes no sense.

UC protests to converge with vote on fee hikes

Jill Tucker, Nanette Asimov, Chronicle Staff Writers

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

As the University of California's Board of Regents considers steep fee increases today, students, faculty members and union workers on several UC campuses were preparing to leave their classes and jobs for the first of a three-day protest.

The combined labor strike and walkout of classes will target layoffs, furloughs and cuts to programs across the UC system in the wake of severe reductions in state funding for higher education.

Thousands of students and UC employees were expected to converge on Berkeley's Sproul Plaza for a noontime rally today, to be followed by a march, organizers said.

It is the first major protest over budget cuts since Sept. 24, when an estimated 5,000 demonstrators participated in a walkout and rally at UC Berkeley and smaller demonstrations were held on other campuses.

Meeting in Los Angeles, the regents are expected to approve a 32 percent student fee increase, the eighth hike since 2002, pushing annual tuition above the $10,000 mark for the first time.

Under UC President Mark Yudof's proposal, students would begin paying an incremental 15 percent increase as soon as next semester.

The regents also are expected to vote on fee increases to 44 graduate programs.

UC officials say the fee hikes are necessary to close this year's funding gap of $535 million, largely the result of reduced state funding and inflation. They expect the increases to generate more than half a billion dollars for the university. Much of the new revenue from the higher fees will be used for financial aid.

The regents will also take up a proposal to expand the number of students eligible for full financial aid so that students whose families earn up to $70,000, instead of $60,000, will now be eligible for a free education.

Much of the students' anger is directed at Yudof for failing to consider alternatives to layoffs and fee increases.

"His furloughs and layoffs, proposed tuition hikes, and lack of budget transparency threaten the public mission of our university," Amatullah Alaji-Sabrie, of the Coalition of University Employees, said in a statement.

UC students from other campuses are expected to travel to Berkeley and UCLA to participate in the protests.

At UCLA, protesters got an early start Tuesday, plastering a campus plaza with posters expressing their anger about the proposed fee increases.

"If I wanted a private education, I would have gone to USC," one poster said.

"All I have to lose is an education I can't afford," said another.

At UC Berkeley, two unions representing about 2,000 researchers, technicians and clerical workers are planning a two-day strike over what they say are unfair labor practices.

UC Berkeley officials said they would be ready and watchful during the three-day protest, but didn't expect the same turnout as the Sept. 24 demonstration, given upcoming finals and Saturday's Big Game against Stanford.

"It's hard to know," said UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof. "I don't think there's an expectation it will be as large."

A vote by the regents' finance committee is expected to recommend the proposed fee hikes today with a vote by the full Board of Regents on Thursday.

On the same day, UC Berkeley protesters are planning to converge on the campus food court for an "open university." If the fee hike is approved, organizers said students will gather Friday outside the chancellor's office at California Hall, for what they say will be an "escalation," although no other details were provided.