UCI students react to fee hike

IRVINE — The daily lives of some UCI students, and in many cases the lives of their working parents, have just gotten more difficult with the recent 8% hike in tuition, according to at least a dozen students who were randomly interviewed for their opinions on campus earlier in the week.

Some of the students said they were angry with the 15-5 vote by the UC Regents on Thursday in San Francisco because it's the second hike in as many years — the last one a 32% increase that took effect in the fall.

Other students said they felt guilty that their parents would now be forced to bear the brunt, which, all told, comes to $822 more a year — from $10,302 to $11,124.

And a few said they wouldn't mind paying the extra money for the 2011-12 academic school year — if the services remained the same. But as it is, they said, some class offerings are becoming more infrequent, if not non-existent, and there some services that they have come to depend on have all but been eliminated.

"I wouldn't mind paying the extra money if I was able to get all the classes I wanted, but as it is, I'm going to graduate $55,000 in debt, and I might not get the major I want," said Deborah Tharp, a fourth-year pre-med student.

Tharp, who hopes to major in psychology, said she has a learning disability and that in the past she received help from the tutors at the Learning and Resources Academic Center. But some of those tutors have lost their jobs due to the financial hardships playing out across UCI and the rest of the UC system.

"This isn't just a UCI problem," said Tharp, 37, a senior and a mother of three. Incidentally, she also ran for the 70th State Assembly seat, garnering 4% of the vote as a Libertarian in a three-way race.

"I ran for office because of the tuition increase," she said. "I was able to organize students on campus and get thousands of votes. This is a statewide and system-wide problem, and it doesn't look like it's going to get any better."

The hike was seen as a partial system-wide solution to plug a hole in the $1.3-billion deficit in the UC system's operating budget due to state cutbacks, said Jesse Cheng, a senior at UC Irvine who serves as the lone UC student regent statewide.

On Friday, Cheng, in an exclusive interview, elaborated on the vote he cast in San Francisco after a long day of traveling back and forth from the Bay Area to Irvine.

"It puts too much stress on the students and their families," said Cheng, 22, a senior, who was appointed to the Regents as a student representative two years ago. "The money that it will raise, the financial impact that it will have … it's nothing; it's negligible."

Cheng said the hike would raise $116 million across the state, only accounting for 1% of the total deficit.

While the hike may provide some relief to the state system, Cheng said he didn't think the revenue-raising maneuver was a fair trade-off, given the ensuing financial woes it will now cause students and their families, some of whom are looking to banks to take out loans.

Other students have stepped it up to help pay their monthly rent, something their parents were footing before the back-to-back increases.

Ryan Smith, a junior majoring in physics, said he's taken a part-time job tutoring children after school for $18 an hour. He said the $1,000 a year in financial aid isn't cutting it. Meanwhile, his girlfriend, he said, is getting $4,000 a year in aid at Orange Coast College.

"My parents don't make much," he said. "My mom works at a school district, and my father is a foreman at Disneyland."

UC President Mark G. Yudof, in an open letter to California on Nov. 11, said a third of the money raised from the fee increase will be set aside for financial aid, leaving an estimated net infusion of $116 million.

"This added revenue," Yudof wrote, "will put the university on a footing that allows campuses to reinvest in faculty, expand course offerings, improve academic support and generally begin to recover ground lost last year to crisis. It will ensure the resources needed to maintain excellence."

He went on to write that, "A public university should not be judged solely by its tuition level, but also by whom it teaches and serves."

Cheng agreed.

"The bottom-line is that the UC universities are good universities," he said. "And you're still going to get a great education and you're still going to have great professors and they're certainly going to be cheaper than many other universities and colleges in this country."

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