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College fees squeeze

San Bernardino Sun 2/20/07

For the fifth time in six years, students in the University of California and California State University systems face the possibility of fee hikes this fall.

Gone are the days when students in the Golden State weren't expected to pay for their education.

University officials looking at eroded state funding for higher education see fee increases as one way to maintain the quality of schools.

Students, many of them anyway, see increasing fees as another broken promise, a sign that education isn't as affordable as it was once meant to be.

It's been almost half a century since the Master Plan for Higher Education was drafted by education officials in California and its principles accepted by the governing boards of the CSU and UC systems. Even parents of today's students are unlikely to remember it.

According to the document - its policies have been revisited and revised over the years - "`tuition' is defined as student charges for teaching expense, whereas `fees' are for charges to the students for services not directly related to instruction." Residents would pay fees for services such as health, housing and recreation, but not tuition.

Today, with fees at the CSU and UC systems contributing to instruction, the line between fees and tuition has blurred.

In a new era, California's public universities are struggling to find a funding formula that works without placing too heavy a burden on students.

Filling the hole

The UC system says its share of the state's General Fund has fallen to 3 percent from 7 percent since 1970.

Students have taken on a greater portion of the cost of education, with fees filling a budget hole caused by a decline in per-

student state funding, according to the UC system.

The CSU system has dealt with a similar dilemma, with fees paying for services state money used to cover, said George Ashkar, a CSU financial official.

In the UC system, administrators have pared down programs, including outreach, to minimize the impact of funding shortfalls on students at universities, said UC spokesman Brad Hayward.

Still, pay for faculty and staff has lagged behind that at comparable institutions, which could harm the UC system's quality in the future, Hayward said.

Bruce Varner, an attorney and UC regent from Redlands, said the university system's challenge in coming years will be seeking alternate sources of money, including donations from alumni and private companies.

Andrew LaFlamme, a Cal State Stanislaus student and a CSU trustee, said he has voted to boost compensation for executives partly because the fundraising they do is vital to the CSU system's survival.

But with outside streams of revenue unable to compensate for the loss of state funding, fees have climbed by more than 75 percent at the CSU and UC systems since the 2001-02 academic year.

The governor's January budget proposal included undergraduate fee hikes of 10 percent at the CSU system and 7 percent at the UC system.

Varner said the UC Board of Regents needs to ensure tuition is predictable so families can plan their finances.

The Higher Education Compact, an agreement between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the CSU and UC systems, calls for the state to raise the universities' budgets by at least 4 percent each year between 2007-08 and 2010-11.

In the past, fees have followed the "boom and bust" cycle of the state economy, surging during an early 1990s budget crisis - when the state changed its tuition-free policy - then leveling off in better times, Hayward said. When the state's finances were looking shabby a few years ago, undergraduate tuition began to rise again, jumping by about 30 percent at both university systems between 2002-03 and 2003-04.

Varner said the compact is key to keeping increases manageable for families.

"Part of this was, in past years, the regents weren't looking at things as carefully as they should have," Varner said.


Bill Shiebler, president of the UC Students Association, says California should pump more cash into higher education.

When students and private donors are paying a growing portion of universities' cost, "that's not a public education," Shiebler said.

Varner says the regents must be more vocal in reminding state officials of the UC system's benefits to California. Medical facilities and research in fields such as genetics and agriculture are just some services universities provide the state, he said.

Although LaFlamme says he and fellow trustees have been lobbying for more state money, Anthony Conley, student government president at Cal State San Bernardino, and Nadir Vissanjy, who chairs the California State Student Association, say the CSU Board of Trustees seems dispassionate on the issue.

Student leaders say they are targeting legislators in the budget season with the message that students struggling with loans, work and school do not want higher tuition.

Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter, D-Rialto, Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Monrovia, and state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, say they aren't enthused by fee increases.

But Dutton asked where additional money to fund the university systems would come from otherwise.

With K-12 schools, health care and prisons eating up large shares of California's budget, "there's no other place to go," he said.

"I'd be more worried about the cost of living in California," Dutton added. "I'd be worried about the cost of electricity. (Students') problem is not really tuition. It's the cost of books."

Administrators say they're committed to financial aid as a way to ensure costs aren't forcing students away from college. Needy students can receive federal loans and grants, as well as state money to cover fees.

According to the UC Office of the President, the median parent income in the system, adjusted for inflation, fell between 2001-02 and 2005-06.

A report last year by the California Postsecondary Education Commission found CSU fees were lower than those at 15 comparable public universities. At the UC system, fees were lower than at three of four similar public institutions, the report stated.

But the report also noted that the rate of fee and tuition hikes has far outpaced income gains in California.

Middle-class students who don't qualify for financial aid often work or take on thousands of dollars in debt to finance their futures, Vissanjy said.

"The goal of the CSU was to be the people's university," he said. "But we're not seeing that fulfilled when the people can't afford to go."

It is recommended that ... governing boards reaffirm the long established principle that state colleges and the University of California shall be tuition free to all residents of the state."

- A Master Plan For Higher Education in California, 1960