Mo Kashmiri, a third-year student at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law, may not be returning to school next month.
Kashmiri said the 25 percent student fee hikes approved by the UC Board of Regents Thursday, which will hike his tuition by over $3,000, could force him to drop out of school for a semester and work.
“I think it’s bullshit that students and families need to be in this situation,” Kashmiri said.
“These cuts couldn’t be coming at a worse time,” he said. “With the economy going down, my father has been unemployed for two years.”
UC students are not alone in their financial woes. Trustees of the California State University system, facing heavy state cuts like their UC counterparts, voted 11-2 Wednesday to increase fees by 30 percent next year.
The UC Board of Regents Finance Committee voted 5-4 Wednesday morning to recommend a 25 percent fee hike and the full board approved the jump Thursday on a 13-3 vote.
The Regents, in a lengthy debate on the matter Wednesday morning, acknowledged the pain the increase will cause. But most said the jump was unavoidable, with the governor proposing $300 million in cuts to the university and the legislature weighing additional reductions of $80 to $400 million.
“We are facing a crisis situation and that we cannot deny,” said Regent Sherry Lansing. “I don’t know of any alternative.”
Proponents argued that the university could not maintain its quality without a significant fee hike. But not all the Regents agreed.
“What good is the quality if we’re closing people out?” asked Regent Ward Connerly.
A parade of students echoed Connerly in the public testimony session, warning that fee hikes will force some students out of school and compel others to spend more time at part-time jobs.
The 25 percent jump will raise fees by $960 for resident undergraduates, bringing mandatory system-wide fees to $4,794. Each of UC’s nine campuses charges additional miscellaneous fees, which bring the total average fees to $5,247 system-wide.
Graduate students face average fees of $6,346 and law students will get bills for $15,966.
The increase comes on top of a mid-year fee hike passed in December — bringing the total increase over the course of two years to almost 40 percent.
Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who serves on the Board of Regents, scolded the body for considering the jump.
“No other group in the state of California is facing a 40 percent increase in fees,” he said. “It’s unacceptable.”
Students could face an even steeper increase in the coming weeks. The Board of Regents gave the UC administration the authority to hike fees an additional 5 percent if the state budget picture worsens, as expected.
UC’s Vice President for Budget Larry Hershman warned that the budget picture will only get worse in the next two years and predicted further jumps in student fees.
“This isn’t the end of budget cutting,” he said.
But university administrators are considering more than just fee hikes. Two weeks ago, UC President Richard Atkinson floated the prospect of caps on student enrollment beginning with the 2004-2005 school year. On Wednesday, university officials raised the prospect of a surcharge on wealthy families. The university would become the first in the nation to charge high-income families more for an education if it adopts the policy.
Financial aid will cover the fee hikes approved Thursday for students from families making $60,000 or less per year. Hershman said about 40 percent of families in the middle-income range — making $60,000 to $90,000 annually — will get grants to cover half the fee increase.
Student Regent Matt Murray, who attends UC Berkeley, spoke out against the Regents’ decision to embrace fee hikes. But ultimately, he blamed the state legislature for considering deep cuts rather than raising taxes.
“We’ll have to drop out of school so that the richest of the rich can buy another Mercedes-Benz,” he said.