University of California students protest tuition hike

The protests started the same week Missouri extended its tuition freeze.

Students at several University of California campuses marched and occupied school buildings last week in protest of steep tuition hikes recently approved by university officials in an effort to close the state's enormous budget deficit.

The University of California Board of Regents voted 20-1 on Nov. 19 to increase in-state undergraduate tuition 32 percent for the 2009-2010 school year from $7,784 to $10,302.

Local media outlets have reported 100 students from various University of California campuses were arrested the day of the vote and the day after for blocking streets and occupying school buildings at campuses in Berkeley, Davis and Los Angeles.

Victor Sanchez is a senior at the University of California-Santa Cruz and president of the University of California Student Association, a student rights group that organized protests at UCLA. He called the vote "egregious" in light of the student protests.

"Oftentimes when we organize against the administration, they tell us the problem is in Sacramento," he said. "But for them to vote in the 32 percent increase in spite of actions on all 10 of our campuses across the state, it is really a shot in the foot for future collaboration."

The increase will be implemented in two parts, with students seeing a 15 percent increase starting next semester. Only student regent Jesse Bernal, a graduate student at the University of California-Santa Barbara, opposed the increases.

The UC system consists of 10 campuses across the state and is similar in structure to the UM system. It has lost about $800 million in state funding in the past year as California tries to close a budget gap of about $21.6 billion.

After laying off about 2,000 employees, reducing course offerings and furloughing employees, the system still faces a deficit of $535 million. The tuition increases are expected to almost close the gap by bringing in an extra $500 million in revenue.

"No one likes higher fees but when it comes to our core funding, that comes from state funding and student revenue," said Leslie Sepuka, a spokeswoman for the office of the UC system president. "Right now the state is reducing its share of the revenue."

Cristopher Santos, a junior at the UCLA and the UCSA Undergraduate Student Committee Leadership chairman, said students protested to make their stance known, even if the increases were inevitable.

"We had a feeling whatever we did we weren't going to change the regents' minds," he said. "However, we decided to go ahead and protest because we feel students should be involved in discussions when tuition is increased and we also protested to keep them accountable for how the money is spent."

The regents' vote in California came as Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was touring his state to announce in-state tuition at the state's public universities and colleges will be frozen at 2007 levels for the second consecutive year. In-state tuition at MU for a student taking 28 credit hours per year will remain at about $8,500.

Nixon has proposed cutting funding for public colleges by 5 percent, in contrast to double-digit cuts made to the budgets of other state departments and agencies. The schools and the state legislature still must approve the plan. Missouri's budget deficit for the fiscal year is expected to be about $261 million.

Nixon held a press conference Nov. 18 at MU to announce the proposed extension. He said keeping tuition rates frozen would help spur economic recovery.

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