By Nanette Asimov
Thousands of graduate students across the state — future architects, engineers, dental hygienists and others — got a one-year reprieve from yearly fee hikes Wednesday after University of California officials concluded that raising the price of dozens of programs was a political risk.
“You don’t want to alienate the people who make decisions about the funding,” said Steve Montiel, a UC spokesman, explaining how a plan to impose hefty price increases on professional degrees shrank from 29 programs last November to just eight.
Over objections of two regents, the board voted Wednesday to raise fees — charged in addition to tuition — by 8 percent, or $618, on four nursing programs, bringing the annual price of a master’s degree to $24,000, not counting books, room and board.
The regents also set annual fees for three new professional degree programs:
* $10,440 for a physician assistant program at UC Davis. (With tuition: $67,325 a year.)
* $30,330 for translational medicine, a joint program of UC Berkeley and UCSF. (With tuition: $45,916 a year.)
* $28,900 for games and playable media at UC Santa Cruz. (With tuition: $49,629 a year.)
In addition, the regents created a fee of $23,000 for an existing graduate program, technology and information management at UC Santa Cruz. With tuition, that cost rises to $43,729 a year.
“Students are very grateful that there are only eight increases,” Raquel Morales, president of the UC Student Association, told the regents, adding that she supports a new UC commission charged with improving UC’s method of spiraling up the price tag on students each year.
Students have been angry about it for years. Last fall, Gov. Jerry Brown joined in and everything changed — for now.
Brown had been crossing his fingers in November that voters would approve his Proposition 30 to raise the state sales tax and income taxes on high earners. He had promised public universities that if it passed, the state would buy out the undergraduate tuition increases that UC and the California State University system had planned for the 2013-14 school year.
But the deal ignored professional degree fees charged by UC.
Then Prop. 30 passed, sending a message that voters preferred to tax themselves than see cuts to public education and universities – or price hikes.
Programs need money
Even so, on Nov. 14, the regents were set to raise fees on 29 of UC’s 60 or so professional programs.
“But Gov. Brown asked us to take another look,” was the polite way Montiel described Brown’s instantaneous opposition that scuttled the plan.
The UC Student Association took advantage of the political window to hammer home its opposition to the increases.
On Wednesday, Provost Aimée Dorr told the regents that UC’s nursing master’s programs at UCSF, UC Davis, UCLA and UC Irvine desperately need the $250,000 the new fees will provide because they had expanded enrollment when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked them to. He promised extra state and federal money in return, but that fell through during the recession.
“This has created very significant problems,” Dorr said, adding that the other programs also need the money to be viable.
Meanwhile, more than 20 programs that had asked in November to have their fees raised are surviving without it.
“We’ve made do,” said Karen Rhodes, spokeswoman for UC Berkeley’s College of Engineering, which expected a $1,300 price increase.
Regent Eddie Island said the programs should find sources of funding besides students’ pockets.
“How disappointed I am that the institution would come forward at this time with a request for a fee increase” after voters approved Prop. 30, he said. “The time is now to look for a different approach.”
He may have been thinking of nursing students like Ilana Pearlman, who will enter UCSF’s nursing master’s program this fall after completing a one-year registered nurse program that cost $55,000. The full-time, single mother had to take out $83,000 in loans to make ends meet in the last year alone.
Though the master’s program is less expensive, the price increase made her furious.
“It’s very, very, very stressful for me to add more financial burden,” Pearlman said. The additional $1,236 over two years “may seem like a small amount, but where will it come from? I’m already at a deficit.”
In the end, Island voted against the proposal, as did student Regent Cinthia Flores. But it passed.
And Dorr said the regents can expect to have a new array of fee hikes to vote on in November.
— Reach Nanette Asimov at firstname.lastname@example.org