This Date in UCSF History: Budget Blues

Campus

Originally published in Synapse - The UCSF student newspaper on September 10, 2003.

Unless you’ve been asleep for the past three months or traveling in the most remote areas of the world, you will have read all about the state’s $38 billion budget deficit, the subsequent recall election, and the many potential candidates for governor who hope to lead California out of the budget morass.

As bizarre as the headlines seem, the budget shortfall has had an immediate and real impact on the UC system and on student fees.

The state budget, passed after a month’s delay, makes $410 million in state funding cuts to the UC system. Student fees were immediately increased by 30 percent in an effort to mitigate some of the shortfall and to preserve the quality of the student instructional programs and access to student services.

“It is a budget that cuts deeply into programs across the University,” wrote UC President Richard Atkinson in a letter released in August. “It delays the opening of UC Merced, provides no state funding for employee salary increases, and forces us to both borrow money for operational purposes and raise student fees substantially.”

The budget deficit also means that UC will face the prospect of turning away UC-eligible students for the first time in memory, according to Atkinson.

“The state’s budget situation now very clearly threatens the University of California’s historic promise of access and quality,” he stated.

University officials point out that the strong economy in the mid-to-late 1990’s prevented fees at UC from rising for seven consecutive years, and fees were actually decreased between 1998 and 2000.

By comparison, even after the 30 percent increase, fees for resident students are still below the average charged at other public universities that UC uses for fee comparison purposes (for example, the University of Virginia Medical School charges over $22,400 in fees for entering medical students). State funding still subsidizes much of the full cost of a UC education.

Professional students were especially hard hit, as professional fees were increased alongside the University Educational fee.

Medical students who paid $5,000 in professional fees in 2002-03, for example, will pay $8,173 during 2003-04. And the Educational fee for professional students jumped from $3,086 to $4,751.

Graduate students are not charged a professional fee, but the in-state graduate Educational fees rose from $2,986 in 2002-03 to $4,506 in 2003-04. Non-resident tuition has increased from $11,557 to $12,245.

Led by UC Berkeley law student Mo Kashmiri, 10 students filed a lawsuit in late July, requesting an injunction against UC professional fee increases, and a refund of fees that were raised in Spring 2003.

The suit alleges that UC broke its promise to continuing students when the fees were increased, because information contained on the Boalt Hall Web site indicated that professional fees would not increase during a student’s enrollment.

While sympathetic to UC’s budget crisis, the students’ lawyer stated that the hardship was more significant for students than for the university, and that the university should wait to collect higher fees until the case is decided.

At a hearing on August 13, however, a San Francisco Superior Court Judge rejected the motion for an injunction; professional students will pay the higher professional fee this fall, pending the outcome of the court case.

Michael Goldstein, the lawyer, acknowledged the students’ situation but said that fee increases were a last resort.

“It’s raining, and we’re trying to make the best decisions we can,” he said. “No one is escaping the consequences of the tough decisions today.”

UC administrators across the state are scrambling to meet the demands placed on them by the late budget compromise.

Registrar’s offices corrected student fee statements at the final moment as the state budget and subsequent fee increase by UC came down to the wire.

Financial aid awards are now in the process of being re-packaged with additional grant aid when possible, and students are being notified about their increased loan need.

Financial aid offices across the UC system extended the deadline to apply for financial assistance to October 15, and most expect a flood of new applications.

Under current UC policy, approximately one-third of the revenue collected from the Education and Professional fees across the system are returned to financial aid programs and used to offset expenses for financial-aid eligible students.

Since well over one-third of students at UCSF receive financial aid, however, the fee increase will not be totally covered for financial aid students, and many will need to apply for more loans or rely on family resources.

Several changes will make the fee increase easier to absorb. The fee charges for fall have been offset as much as possible with financial aid or graduate support funding, and some students may not even notice that their fees are higher.

Students can now register and pick up financial aid before paying any balance due on their fees. The Student Financial Services Office already anticipated a substantial increase when making initial awards but is now in the process of re-packaging student awards to meet the total fee increase, and eligible students will receive supplemental notices soon.

“I know that a fee increase is never welcome, and it is particularly unwelcome when families are facing many other financial pressures,” Atkinson wrote in a July 31 letter to students and parents.

“But it is only one of many actions we are taking to cope with the budget crisis, and I believe it is essential if we are to avoid cutting class offerings, increasing class sizes and delaying students’ progress to graduation. (The fee increase) is being implemented in order to prevent these continuing budget cuts from damaging the quality of the student educational experience at the University of California.”