The governing board of the University of California approved a $2,500 student fee increase Thursday after two days of tense campus protests across the state.
The vote by the Board of Regents in a windowless University of California, Los Angeles, meeting room took place as the drone of protesters could be heard from a plaza outside. Scores of police in riot gear guarded the building.
The 32 percent increase will push the cost of an undergraduate education at California's premier public schools to over $10,000 a year by next fall, about triple the cost of a decade ago. The fees, the equivalent of tuition, do not include the cost of housing, board and books.
"Our hand has been forced," UC President Mark Yudof told reporters after the vote. "When you don't have any money, you don't have any money."
Turning to students' wallets
Board members said the 229,000-student system had been whipsawed by years of state budget cuts, leaving no option other than turning to students' wallets. Yudof has said the 10-campus system needs a $913 million increase in state funding next year, in addition to higher student fees.
State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, a Democrat who sits on the board, said she would push for higher taxes, possibly on higher-income residents, to finance education. The state could face $20 billion shortfalls during each of the next five years.
At the UCLA campus, the meeting room was closed to visitors for the second day after repeated outbursts by demonstrators.
Hundreds of students and union members gathered at the arched doorways of the building, waving signs, pounding drums and chanting "We're fired up, can't take it no more" and "Shame on you."
Armed police, some with beanbag-firing shotguns, lined up behind steel barricades, watching over the protesters.
Trapped in building
Some staff and board members were trapped in the building for up to several hours after the meeting because of the disruption outside. A van carrying regents and staff leave campus was surrounded and delayed by protesters as it tried to leave campus.
Three hours after the meeting, Yudof was escorted out by police, with protesters in pursuit shouting "Shame."
Authorities said there was one arrest.
David Valenzuela, who graduated three months ago from UCLA, said he was on campus supporting friends when police pepper-sprayed him. "I didn't even get a warning. My face was on fire," said Valenzuela, 23.
Board members said students from households with incomes below $70,000 would be shielded from the fees, and financial aid would help others defray the higher cost. But that did little to ease the mood on campus, where some students wondered if they could afford the jump or qualify for more borrowing.
Back to community college?
Ayanna Moody, a second-year prelaw student, said she feared she might have to attend a community college next year.
"I worked so hard to be at one of the most prestigious universities. To have to go back, it's very depressing," she said. Administrators "already cut out a lot of our majors and programs. I'd rather they cut some of their salaries."
UCLA graduate student Matthew Luckett agreed: "They should cut from the top," he said, referring to administration salaries.
About 30 to 50 protesters staged a takeover of Campbell Hall, a building across campus that houses ethnic studies. They chained the doors shut and remained inside for several hours. The protesters left voluntarily late Thursday and the building was scheduled to reopen Friday, university spokesman Phil Hampton said.
On Wednesday, 14 demonstrators were arrested at UCLA and demonstrations spread to other campuses.
Yudof told reporters Wednesday he couldn't rule out raising student fees again if the state is unable to meet his request for more funding.
"I can't make any ... promises," he said.
Gov. Schwarzenegger blamed UC's financial crisis on the Legislature's failure to reform the way the state collects and spends taxpayer money. He said he was unhappy about the increases, but considered them necessary under the circumstances.
"This is the time to look at our budget system and tax system. The Legislature should be sitting there right now fixing it. In the meantime, students have to suffer," Schwarzenegger said.