Tuition hikes move to final vote by University of California panel over governor's opposition

College PlanningAssociated Press

Gov. Jerry Brown, other top California officials and many very vocal students oppose the series of tuition hikes that University of California President Janet Napolitano is proposing. That's not likely to stop the cost of attending one of UC's 10 campuses from increasing.

A board of regents committee gave preliminarily approval Wednesday to an increase of as much as 5 percent annually in each of the next five years unless the university gets more money from Sacramento. In the minority of the 7-2 vote were the governor and Student Regent Sadia Saifuddin, who like other committee members had to shout over the chants of angry collegians to make their votes heard.

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Napolitano says the tuition hike is crucial to preventing enrollment cuts and maintaining the university's quality.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and two new regents appointed by Brown this week have said they will also oppose the tuition hikes when the full board votes Thursday. The plan appears headed to final passage, however, with a majority of regents indicating they support it, albeit with regret.

"I am worried that we will do to the University of California what we did to the K-12 system, and unless we make a judgment now that that won't happen, it will happen," Regent George Kieffer said. "This is an honest statement about what we need and where we are at a minimum."

Wednesday's meeting got testy after Brown insisted the system's finances have improved under his watch, and that Napolitano and the regents should be able to make do without raising tuition.

Before the vote, the governor said he wants to create a task force to look into ways of making the UC budget go further by educating more students in less time, such as offering more online classes, making it easier for community college students who transfer to a UC campus to complete their degrees, and making each campus more distinct in academic specialties.

"I don't think you considered all the alternatives," he said.

Napolitano shot back that the money Brown has budgeted for the campuses next year still leaves it $460 million below 2008 funding levels. With the budgeted amount, "we will never catch up to where we were then, never mind to when your mother attended," she said.

"This is the budget we think we need so we can get off this year-to-year, feast-or-famine budget process for the university," she said. "We don't have time to wait for another commission. We can have it and maybe we will get some really nifty ideas out of it, but the budget process moves along."

Under the plan that won preliminary approval, the average annual cost of a UC education for a California resident would rise $612 to $12,804 next fall and to $15,564 by fall 2019. Tuition rates have been frozen for three years.

UC Executive Vice President Nathan Brostrom, who oversees the system's budget, told the committee that only students with annual family incomes above $175,000 would pay the entire increase, and more than half of all UC students would continue paying no tuition thanks to financial aid.

Earlier in the day, students tried to stop the meeting by forming human chains to block members of the governing board as they tried to enter the conference center at the University of California, Mission Bay. Pushing and shoving occurred as protesters surrounded the board members and police tried to clear a path.

Saifuddin, the student regent, told the board that while the demonstrators' tactics might be "unsavory to you all," the anger and fear students are feeling should not be disregarded.

"This is not just $612 more a year. This is rent. This is another job they need to get. This is food they cannot buy," Saifuddin said. "Let's get real about the situation. Students have always had to pay the price for financial mismanagement by the board and the state."