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University of California tuition-hike plan moves forward

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    Several hundred University of California Ssan Diego students gathered on the walkway in front of Geisel Library Tuesday Nov. 18, 2014 in a sit-in to protest a proposed hike in tuition of up to five percent for the next five years. Amani Proctor, a third-year student from Fresno is shadowed on a sign she holds up during the protest. (AP Photo/The U-T San Diego, John Gastaldo}

SAN FRANCISCO » A committee of the University of California’s governing board voted Wednesday for a nearly 28 percent tuition increase during each of the next five years over the protests of Gov. Jerry Brown, legislative leaders and students.

After running a gauntlet of protesters, the committee voted 7-2 to approve the plan recommended by UC President Janet Napolitano that would raise tuition as much as 5 percent annually.

Napolitano has said the increase was contingent on the state not giving the 10-campus system more money than currently budgeted.

The full Board of Regents is expected to consider the plan on Thursday, with a majority already indicating they support it. 

Under the plan, the average annual cost of a UC education for California residents would go up $612 to $12,804 next fall and to $15,564 by fall 2019. Tuition rates at the 10 schools have been frozen for three years.

(Out-of-state students, who now pay more than $35,000 in tuition and fees, could see those charges rise to nearly $45,000, according to the New York Times. And those figures do not cover room and board, now about $14,000 for all students.)

The meeting got testy after Brown — a member of the committee — 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.

He took particular aim at the contention by several regents that the system needs to increase the salaries of administrators and faculty so it can compete with elite private universities for talent.  

"We are not talking about a scarcity (of funding)  here that is impossible to live with," the governor said. 

Napolitano shot back that the money Brown has budgeted for the campuses next year still leaves it 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.  

Before the vote, several members of the board who won’t vote until Thursday also put the blame on Sacramento.

Regent Bonnie Reiss, a former adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, noted that the state has managed to find money for high-speed rail and a multi-million dollar rainy fund while giving the university short-shrift. 

"What we are saying is the experience of the last decade is the state is an inherently unreliable partner in investing in state public higher education," Reiss said.

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 all of the increases, and more than half of all UC students would continue paying no tuition thanks to financial aid. 

Students from families that earn between $100,000 and $150,000 a year are likely to see their tuition costs go down over the next four years because of a middle-class scholarship program approved by the state, Brostrom added.

The dissenting votes on Wednesday came from the governor and Student Regent Sadia Saifuddin, who urged UC leaders and state officials to work with students.

"Six hundred dollars may not seem like a lot but that is almost an entire month’s rent for some students who are barely making it by as it is, and I was one of those students," Saifuddin said.

The committee had to shout their vote over students who were chanting loudly as they tried to delay the action.   

Before the vote, the governor outlined his plan to create a task force to look into various ways of making the UC budget go further by educating more students in less time.

The task force could look at transfer and completion routes for community college students, a ramp-up in online classes, and making each campus more distinct in academic specialties, Brown said.

Napolitano said she is open to new ideas and would like to work with Brown but there isn’t time for a new task force.

"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," she told the governor. 

Assembly speaker Toni Atkins, who serves as a regent, said she wasn’t ready to approve tuition increases. Instead, she pledged to come up with an alternative plan during the next legislative session. 

"I know we were all frustrated," Atkins said. "Shame on us for being in this position today where we’ve got students from all over the state to come up here on buses to listen to us point fingers at each other."

Earlier in the day, student protesters 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 students surrounded the board members and university police tried to clear a path.

The students shouted, "Go home, go home," and "UC, UC, our tuition must be free."

Karl Pister, a former chancellor of the Santa Cruz campus who is in his 90s and supports the tuition plan, told the board that he was knocked over by protesters and cut his hand as he tried to get into the building.

The New York Times contributed to this report.

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