Lawmakers propose caps on college fees


Wyatt Buchanan, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lawmakers in Sacramento are proposing limits on skyrocketing student fees for higher education in California as campuses across the state have seen unrest and even violent protests over increased student costs.

On Wednesday, a state Senate committee heard four proposals to cap the annual growth of student fees and to ensure a delay between a fee’s approval and its application. The proposals, which come from members of both parties and include a state constitutional amendment, are likely to be merged into a single bill in the coming weeks.

“Increases in fees may be inevitable, but they should be gradual and predictable,” said Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge (Los Angeles County), the author of one of the four bills.

The four proposals are:

— Capping fee increases at a maximum 10 percent per year, with a 180-day waiting period before they are implemented for CSU students, with a recommendation that UC Regents do the same. It was proposed by Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced.

— Amending the state Constitution to mandate UC Regents adopt those changes. The Legislature can dictate such changes for CSU under current law but can only recommend such changes to UC, according to the bill proposed by Denham.

— Prohibiting a year-to-year increase in fees for students once they are enrolled and limiting the cost of education that is funded with fees from CSU students. Freshman classes could have only 5 percent increases in fees above the class preceding them. The bill urges UC Regents to follow suit. It was introduced by Dean Florez, D-Shafter (Kern County).

— Limiting increases in fees and the percent of fees that make up a student’s overall cost of education to yet-to-be determined levels. It was introduced by Liu.

But the proposals are getting a cool reception from leaders of major student organizations, who say they do not do enough to address the underlying issue of sufficient funding for higher education in California. Fees have increased 200 percent over the past decade for University of California students, 210 percent for Cal State students and 136 percent for community college students, according to legislative analyses of the bills.

The University of California Students Association takes no position on any bill that involves student fees because the organization believes higher education should be free to students.

“Yes, we would like the bleeding to stop, but we don’t want it institutionalized in a way that says fees are going to go up year after year,” said Victor Sanchez, a UC Santa Cruz senior who is president of the association. “It’s our hope that the state goes back to a more conscious state of being for what they do for higher education.”

The association wants lawmakers to look to new revenues or other ways of increasing funding for higher education.

That sentiment is shared by the California State Student Association, and the president of that organization said he is concerned that administrators will respond to a cap on fees by slashing academic offerings.

“It does me no good to have a cheap education if it’s a terrible one,” said Steve Dixon, who leads the organization and is a student at Humboldt State University.

And restricting a major funding component for higher education as state funding drops would mean “not providing reliability and predictability to parents and students at all,” said Karen Zamarripa, an assistant vice chancellor for CSU.

“I have yet to meet anyone in my now 19 years at CSU that likes to raise fees,” she told the committee.

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