SAN FRANCISCO – The University of California, one of the country's largest and most respected higher education systems, raised tuition Thursday by another 9.6 percent for the upcoming school year in response to a sharp reduction in government support.
The $1,068 hike passed by the Board of Regents came on top of a previously approved 8 percent hike for 2011-2012.
Incoming UCLA junior Alex Jreisat, who is transferring from a community college, said the latest increase will force him and other students to borrow more money and go deeper into debt.
"It's already putting me in an uncomfortable situation financially," said Jreisat, a 21-year-old anthropology major who traveled to San Francisco to speak at the board meeting. "It's tragic that the regents keep balancing the budget on the backs of students ... It's a shame that the state has to put the regents in that position."
Undergraduate and graduate tuition for California residents will jump to $12,192 a year, which doesn't include room, board and roughly $1,000 in campus fees. That's $1,890, or 18 percent, more than the amount UC students paid in the previous academic year and more than three times what they paid a decade ago.
About one-third of the estimated $216 million in new tuition revenue will be used for financial aid. Out-of-state and international students will pay about $36,000 in annual tuition.
California's system of public higher education has long served as a model of access, affordability and academic excellence, but it's come under severe financial pressure over the past few years as the state slashed funding to close massive budget deficits caused by the economic downturn.
As a result, students at UC, the 23-campus California State University system and 112 community colleges have seen their tuition bills soar even while campuses reduced course sections, shrank teaching staffs, eliminated academic programs and reduced services.
The UC system's vote to raise tuition Thursday came just two days after the CSU system decided to raise tuition by 12 percent, on top of a previously approved 10 percent increase, to offset state budget cuts. That system has about 412,000 students.
Annual tuition for in-state CSU undergraduates will increase this fall to $5,472, not including room, board or campus fees averaging $950. That's nearly four times what students paid 10 years ago.
University of California regents said the tuition increase in the UC system was necessary to preserve academic quality and student access at its 10 campuses.
"I hate that we have been forced by our state's politicians to raise tuition, but I hate even more the possibility of letting UC slide into becoming a second-rate institution," regent Bonnie Reiss said before the 14-4 vote.
The latest tuition hike came in the wake of a state budget that reduced UC funding by $650 million, or about 20 percent. The system could lose another $100 million if the state generates less revenue than anticipated.
The move means that for the first time, UC students will be charged more in tuition than the state contributes for the cost of their education.
The UC system, which has about 220,000 students, faces a total budget shortfall of more than $1 billion due to the state budget and rising costs, mostly for employee retirement and health care benefits.
The tuition increase will only cover about a quarter of that shortfall. The remainder will be addressed by new revenue sources, administration cost-cutting and reductions in academic programs and student services, officials said.
Even with the tuition increase, administrators said the cost of a UC education is in line with that of comparable state universities in Illinois, Michigan and Virginia — and about one-third the sticker price of private institutions such as Stanford University or the University of Southern California.
The burden of higher UC tuition is expected to fall heaviest on middle-class students who don't qualify for financial aid.
"It's going to be a struggle to find enough money to pay for school in the fall," said Leigh Mason, an incoming senior at UC San Diego, who isn't eligible for financial aid. She works as a restaurant server near campus to help pay for tuition and living expenses.
UC's generous financial aid program will keep more than half of students from feeling the tuition increase this year, officials said. Needy students from families earning less than $80,000 have all of their tuition covered by financial aid, and the two most recent tuition increases will be waived for one year for aid-eligible students from families earning up to $120,000.
While more than a dozen students called on the regents to reject the tuition increase, chancellors of individual campuses had urged the regents to approve it, saying failure to do so would lead to fewer course offerings, the disappearance of academic programs, fewer services and longer graduation times.
"We've taken heavy losses on our campuses," said George Blumenthal, chancellor of UC Santa Cruz.
The lack of additional tuition revenue would mean a further "degradation of the educational experience for students," he said.