A Look Back at Past Fee Increases – They Were There All Along

When UCI began in 1965, it cost approximately $220 a year in student fees to attend. Now, it costs over $10,000 a year – and the number will only keep rising.

But this is nothing new to the University of California. Since UCI’s inception to the UC system in 1965, the issue of fee increases as a solution to state budget cuts has plagued students.

Following the removal of Clark Kerr as UC President in 1967, Governor Ronald Reagan announced plans to impose tuition and cut the budget of university and state colleges.

The controversy surrounding Kerr led to UCI’s first unified student action that reportedly drew about 1,500 students and faculty members. Kerr was a champion of free and accessible higher education for all high school graduates.

In April 1968, after the then-UC Board of Regents voted to increase student fees by $81, Regent William Forbes, who opposed the fee increase, declared, “If we pass this measure we will take a substantial step away from the basic stance of free higher education.” At the meeting, six additional regents opposed the increase.

In an interview with the UC student media last October, UC President Mark Yudof said, “It would be a thrill if the state would live up to its responsibility and allow us to reduce fees. Realistically, what I’m hoping to do is to slow the rate of increase beyond 2011.” About a month later in November, the Regents voted almost unanimously (20-1) to raise student fees mid-year by 32 percent.

Two weeks ago, Patrick Lenz, the UC vice president of budget, revealed that “some kind of percentage of a fee increase does have to happen” again in order to help close the $237.1 million budget gap facing the UCs this year.

“There are increasing capital costs each year that arise due to contractual capital mandates,” wrote Andres Gonzalez, ASUCI’s executive vice president, in an editorial following the latest fee increase news. Gonzalez alluded to the fact that in documents provided to UC student government leaders, the additional mandatory costs for the following 2011-2012 academic year showed a $439.9 million shortfall – meaning more fee increases would be inevitable for the years to come.

How did the UCs go from affordable to debt-inducing for its students? What brought the costs at UCI up so dramatically in the span of 45 years?

In comparison to UC Berkeley and UCLA, UCI is still young – not even half a century old – but it is not immune to the problems threatening the entire UC legacy.

Although UCI began as a solution, the school soon developed problems of its own. Along with UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz, UCI was created as part of the California Master Plan for Higher Education of 1960. These three campuses were opened primarily to accommodate the baby boomers who were coming of age and heading to college.

The main goal of the Master Plan, architected by Kerr and former California governor Pat Brown (current governor-elect Jerry Brown’s father), was to send more high school graduates on to higher education institutions at low costs.

What seemed like a brilliant long-term idea has since clashed with the reality of the state economy. In 1967, after being elected to govern the state of California, Reagan cut $24 million from the UC budget, forcing the Regents to consider raising fees and imposing tuition.

On the day he was dismissed as UC president, Jan. 20, 1967, Kerr spoke at a news conference to explain what he had wanted for the UCs and his vision for the future of the institution he would no longer lead:

“The best investment that any society makes is in the education of its young people, and this shouldn’t basically be looked upon myopically as a ‘cost’; it should be looked upon as the best investment that any society can make. The strength of the society is the quality of its people and their skills and their leadership. So I hope that there are no tuition barriers in this University. I regret that I am no longer in a position to help lead the battle against tuition. I am sure that many others will take my place in this battle. Perhaps because of this development this afternoon it may become more difficult for those who favor tuition, as a matter of fact to impose it, because I think that where I stood in my opposition there will stand thousands.”

43 years after this statement, Kerr’s hopes for affordable, accessible, diverse and decentralized universities have become buried under the weight of a decreasing state budget and a disinvestment in the public education system. However, hope currently lies in newly-elected governor Jerry Brown, who has announced plans to restructure the Master Plan.

In one week, the decision is once again in the hands of the current UC Regents who, last year, already turned to the students to close the budget gap. The 2009-2010 academic year saw a surge of student-led actions across the state. Here at UCI, the number of protesters reached a peak on March 4. But so far, in this 2010-2011 year, the protests have been quieter.

Next week: On June 1, 1969, a Los Angeles Times editorial titled “UCI – A Lesson in Dissent” praised UCI for effectively addressing the People’s Park protest in Berkeley. How did UCI go from campus-wide discussions about protesting and the student movement to becoming known as a quiet and apathetic school?