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California Tuition Hike Draws Anger

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

The University of California has announced that tuition fees will go up 8 percent next year. It's the fifth year in a row that students will pay more to attend the nation's largest public university system, and the school says the total cost of a four-year degree, including room and board, is now approaching $100,000. NPR's Elaine Korry reports.

ELAINE KORRY reporting:

Students are angry, questioning whether the university still serves all Californians. The latest fee hike works out to about $500, bringing total yearly fees to 7,300. It's still less than what you'd pay at the University of Illinois or Michigan or Virginia, but that doesn't help senior Sarah Wandalosky(ph), a political science major at the system's flagship campus, UC Berkeley.

Ms. SARAH WANDALOSKY (Senior, University of California, Berkeley): Every single year fees have been increased. It's gone up--I don't know the actual numbers, but thousands of dollars.

KORRY: And what impact has that had on your financial situation?

Ms. WANDALOSKY: For me, I'm paying for all of my education myself. So it's been very hard. I'm working more during the summer and I'm having to take on extra jobs during the school year to pay for the fee increases.

KORRY: Next year Wandalosky will be a graduate student, so her fees increased even more, 10 percent. It's hard to swallow, especially since administrators got big raises on the same day. And the UC system is under fire for a San Francisco Chronicle report that top employees receive hundreds of millions of dollars in hidden bonuses and other pay. According to Wandalosky, it's just not fair.

Ms. WANDALOSKY: If they're going to pay high salaries to the administrators, what about the professors? And we're losing professors. And you know, you look at the professors at Ivy League schools in--at Stanford, for example, and they're living in huge houses in Atherton, and our professors are living in apartments around here.

KORRY: University officials concede that professors are defecting to the likes of Harvard and Yale for better pay. Administrators also worry about the spiraling costs of an education at the 10 UC campuses, now approaching six figures. At a recent meeting on affordability, UC President Robert Dynes said fees are just part of the problem.

Mr. ROBERT DYNES (University of California President): The cost of going to a university, the cost that a family sees, is not only the tuition and the fees, but it's living expenses, it's books, it's transportation, it's housing; it's all of these things. And, in fact, these other things are actually much greater than the fees--the ability to actually exist and live and transport yourself to the campus.

KORRY: Dynes said he's proud that even with higher fees the UC system still leads the nation in the proportion of students from low-income families. He said this year students received $1.1 billion in grants and scholarships. UC senior Vice President Bruce Darling said the fee increases, although painful, were approved for one reason alone, to offset state budget cuts of as high as 15 percent.

Mr. BRUCE DARLING (Senior Vice President, University of California): But even with the increases in student fees, the university still faces a $500 million shortfall, and that's really hurting the university right at the moment. We are at a tipping point. The quality of the university is still very, very strong, but at the same time, the early warning signs of erosion are palpable. One can feel them everywhere you go in the university.

KORRY: Student-faculty ratios and class sizes are also rising along with fees. But despite the problems, UC Berkeley is still one of the top-ranked universities in the world, and freshman Yuman Salahi(ph), an engineering major, says he's lucky to be here.

Mr. YUMAN SALAHI (Engineering Student): It's definitely unfortunate. I don't want prices to go up, but I'm still saving a lot more money than going to a private school. So it's definitely a good deal.

KORRY: Tuition alone at many high-ranking private schools has topped $40,000 a year. Elaine Korry, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elaine Korry is an NPR contributor based in San Francisco. From August 2004-June 2007 she worked as an NPR senior reporter covering social policy for NPR, with a focus on education, and on the lives of the nation's most vulnerable citizens — the homeless, those living in poverty, working in low wage positions, and trying to find their way to a more stable life.