State Turns its Back on Students as Graduate Tuition Fees Climb Higher

    UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA — In an disappointing decision
    for many students and parents, the UC Board of Regents last week
    approved drastic fee increases for the various UC professional schools,
    citing an impending need to improve quality and offer the competitive
    faculty salaries needed to maintain the excellence for which UC
    graduate schools are known.
    But
    before students jump the gun and assume the typically-frivolous regents
    are once again to blame for their mounting debts, they should realize
    that, this time, it was actually the state that turned its back on
    California’s students.
    Since 2001 the UC system has faced continuous budget cuts that have
    forced it to adopt fee increases for both its undergraduate and
    graduate programs. Between 2003-04 former Gov. Gray Davis slashed the
    UC budget an astounding $410 million, resulting in cuts to nearly every
    nook and cranny of the UC system. Between 2004-05 the professional
    schools took another hit when the state cut their funding by an
    additional $42 million.
    As last week’s meeting indicated, the ripple effect of these state
    decisions is still being felt — and most profoundly among students,
    many of whom will be forced to make difficult decisions regarding their
    education.
    And despite the regents’ concerted efforts to highlight the plan’s
    attention to boosting financial affordability through additional
    financial aid, the plan will no doubt cut off access to advanced
    degrees for many low-income students. Even with the promise of many
    schools to return upward of 30 percent of revenue generated from the
    increase to financial aid programs and student grants, the tuition fees
    for many of the schools will be simply too high for students to bear
    the cost.
    Furthermore the additional grants offered by the UC as a result of this
    added revenue will only cover the entire cost of the fee increase for
    students whose family income is lower than $60,000 per year. This
    would, as a result, force families making say, $65,000, to spend nearly
    half of their annual income on their child’s tution.
    And although the UC Regents voted for only steady 7 percent increases
    in student fees for many of the system’s professional schools,
    including medicine, dentistry, optometry and nursing, the system’s law,
    business and pharmacy schools will face particularly soaring fees.
    UC Berkeley’s professional school students, for example, can expect a
    15 percent increase in fees at its law school and an additional 15
    percent at its business school.
    The UC Regents predict comparable increases will be implemented well
    into 2011. Similarly high rates are planned for UCLA as well. The vote
    also approved an approximate annual increase of 11 percent for UCSD’s
    and UC San Francisco’s pharmacy schools.
    With hikes like these, the regents are delusional if they believe the
    envisioned changes to financial aid can compensate for what will be an
    average increase of approximately $450 per student. Keep in mind that
    with the University of California enrolling approximately 45,884
    graduate students in 2006, that sum is well over $20 million. Given
    that substantial gap, it is nearly impossible to trust the burden will
    not be thrust upon students.
    Despite the vote ending in a 13 to 6 approval of the increases, several regents voiced these pressing concerns at the meeting.
    “We ought not to try to address quality concerns on the backs of the students,” said Regent Eddie Island.
    Concerned Regents also stressed, and rightly so, that the added
    financial pressure for low-income students would be a backward step on
    the path to diversity — an issue the regents have continually pushed in
    recent talks. They opposed the resolution saying it would reduce access
    for the state’s minorities seeking advanced degrees.
    But even given this negative symptom, the regents are not to blame;
    this time they were just unlucky. They got stuck with an empty wallet
    and an angry mob while our state legislators are getting off easy.
    So if anything positive can be said about last week’s decision, its
    that it was an eye opener, a harsh reminder that legislative decisions
    — over those made by the UC Regents — often have the greatest impact on
    UC education.

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