UC Grad Students to Endure Sharp Fee Hikes

Several UC regents debated whether students could afford to attend graduate school as the costs of tuition continue to rise, but ultimately approved the increase. (Will Parson/Guardian)

Despite impassioned warnings by multiple regents that raising tuition prices of graduate schools would defame the foundation’s reputation for accessible education, UC committees on educational policy and finance approved a significant increase in graduate school fees at the Sept. 20 UC Board of Regents meeting.

The hike is expected to drastically impact the university’s 33 graduate programs, including the UCSD School of Medicine, the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Rady School of Management.

Although other fee increases were enacted earlier in the decade, the regents said that budget cuts have prevented graduate schools from offering competitive faculty and staff wages.

The 13-5 vote determined that graduate tuition fee increases — a minimum of 7 percent annually for the next three years — must be implemented in order to continue the university’s quality of graduate programs. After the 2008-09 academic year, deans from each graduate school must present annual graduate fee assessments to the regents for evaluation for the following two academic years. These future petitions for fee increases will take into consideration the fluctuating demands for staff necessities such as improved supplies and facilities, program expansions and faculty salaries.

“The foundation of the university is our quality, and we are at a crossroads,” Regent Judith Hopkinson said at the meeting. “The state support that we’ve had in [previous] decades we don’t have anymore, so we have to come up with alternatives to that approach.”

The majority of UC graduate school deans felt that the proposed increase was adequate to sustain their programs and maintain access to their schools — a move that requires a larger faculty and improving salaries along with an increase in financial aid, UC Office of the President spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said.

The annual professional school fee evaluations are accompanied by the division in individual school prices — a step that generated worry that the contrast between graduate school fees will eventually lead to a rift between the UC campuses. Several regents also stressed that the fee increase could imply that the institution does not need state funding — signaling a transition toward privatization.

“Don’t put it on the back of students; don’t send the message to the people we seek to serve [that] a $40,000 education is affordable,” Regent Eddie Island said. “We’ve gone too far down this road of seeking help from students [and] that’s the wrong standard.”

The regents are requiring that a minimum of 33 percent of total revenue from the fee increases be allocated to financial aid, in order to lessen startling cost inflation. In addition, the Loan Repayment Assistance Plan offered with the law programs gives loan payment assistance to students who pursue low-paying public service jobs.

“One of the things the schools plan to do is be very proactive in providing financial aid information to students to soften that sticker shock,” Vazquez said. “In addition, the school will report every year to the regents on any change to the demographic composition of the classes — if the fees have in any way affected the demographic composition of enrollment.”

However, various regents voiced concerns about detrimental effects that the surge in graduate school prices would cause — such as an increasingly limited access to affordable graduate education through the institution, the lasting debt that students may burden themselves with long after their programs are completed and the overall reputation of the institution.

“We ought to evaluate these fees on the basis of whether or not they serve the land-grant mission and whether that there is a societal good we seek to serve above all else,” Island said. “Are we harming or helping the institution we all love?”

Last year, Superior Court Judge James Warren ordered the university to reimburse over $33.8 million to 40,000 students in Kashmiri v. Regents — a lawsuit stating that the institution violated its tuition contract with professional students enrolled before 2003 by illegally raising their fees. The university is currently appealing the court’s ruling.