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UC fee increases approved despite protesters

November 19, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Hundreds of protesters marched at UCLA and shut down a campus building Thursday, but that didn't stop the UC Board of Regents from approving a 32 percent increase in student fees.About 30 to 50 protesters locked themselves in Campbell Hall on campus overnight, staging a sit-in that forced the cancellation of Thursday classes in the building. Students drove in from all over the state to protest at the Westwood campus.

"The fact that finances is such a big part of me being able to have my education, I know that raising the tuition could jeopardize that chance for me, even in my higher education, going on to grad school," said student Marissa Wilson from UC San Diego.

The meeting room was closed to visitors for the second day after repeated outbursts by demonstrators.

Scores of police in riot gear guarded the building. Locked arm-in-arm, demonstrators surrounded the meeting facility preventing the regents from exiting. Some staff and board members were trapped in the building for up to several hours after the meeting because of the disruption outside, and had to be escorted to their cars by police.

Students chanted and waved signs as they marched throughout the campus and onto Wilshire Boulevard and other streets, blocking traffic in the area. There were no immediate reports of any injuries.

One student was arrested earlier in the day and cited for allegedly obstructing a police officer.

"Even as first-years, we've already suffered the 9 percent increase, and it's just going to get worse and worse for us and for our friends back in high school," said Ayanna Moody, a UCLA student. "It's our only choice to come here and fight."

After the vote, the protests continued around campus.

"I can hardly afford school as it is so -- I'm on grants, loans -- and they want to raise it 32 percent more. It's unacceptable," said student Crystal Bureman.

Mark Yudof, president of the UC Board of Regents, noted that students who come from families earning less than $70,000 will pay no tuition whatsoever, thanks to financial aid programs.

"If you make less than $70,000 a year, you will not pay any fees. You not only won't pay the increase, you won't pay the base. And if you make between $70,000 and $120,000, we'll pay half of the increase in the initial year. So the access is still there," said Yudof

Board member and State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, asked the board to support her efforts to raise revenue.

"We need votes. Just like they're struggling for votes on health care reform, we struggle every year for votes to raise revenue," said Bass.

The finance committee approved the increase on Wednesday that will amount to a $2,500 tuition hike for UC students by next fall.

Undergraduate students currently pay about $7,800 a year, but with the increase, students will pay more than $10,000. It marks the first time tuition topped $10,000.

The fees do not include the cost of housing, board and books.

"I'm from the Bay Area, so to come to L.A., it's already super expensive, so I don't know if I can afford to come back to UCLA next year," said Megan Camacho, a UCLA student.

An unruly protest during Wednesday's UC Board of Regents meeting resulted in the arrest of 14 people. Several hundred protesters had gathered around an auditorium on the campus, and as the crowd tried to push their way into the meeting, police hit some with batons. Protesters threw water bottles and sticks at the officers.

Inside, the meeting was interrupted by outbursts from students and others upset about the plan to increase student fees by 32 percent. The regents eventually walked out of the room.

The 10-campus university system has made major cuts and is facing a more than half-million dollar budget deficit. UC officials say they have to raise fees to close the gap.

"We have a chicken and egg problem. Unless we raise the fees, we don't collect the money, we can't provide the services," said Yudof.

The UC regents plan to ask for an additional $913 million in state funding for the next fiscal year. They also plan to cut freshman enrollment if the funding is not approved.

Eyewitness News Reporter Amy Powell contributed to this report.


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