UC Merced

UC regents approve 9.6 percent tuition increase; Merced students lament extra costs

The University of California Board of Regents approved a 9.6 percent increase in student tuition Thursday, a move UC Merced students say further compounds the skyrocketing price of receiving a higher education.

The board's approval came during its regularly scheduled meeting at the San Francisco Mission Bay campus. The increase will go into effect in the fall and will translate to an additional $1,068 per student for the academic year.

For UC Merced students such as mechanical engineering student Ilya Sushchikh, the increase is anything but welcome news. The 19-year-old Santa Barbara native receives financial aid, but it's not enough to cover all his college costs. Sushchikh and his parents have to take out loans to cover the rest.

Sushchikh said he has about $40,000 in loans. "In the future, when I have to pay my loans, it's going to suck," he lamented.

The increase, which comes on top of an 8 percent increase previously approved by the board for the 2011-12 school year, is geared to help offset about one-quarter of the $1 billion shortfall the UC system is facing.

The shortfall stems from the $650 million in state budget cuts the system must absorb, in addition to about $350 million in mandatory costs.

The other 75 percent of the shortfall will be addressed by a combination of austerity measures, administrative efficiency and new revenue-generating measures.

Board of Regents members said it wasn't easy to approve the increase but that it was necessary to prevent campuses from having to make an additional $150 million in cuts. "That's just not an acceptable outcome," said board member Russell Gould.The quality of the UC system would suffer if the increase wasn't approved and campuses were forced to absorb more cuts, the board said. "Quality is essential for the future of the University of California," Gould said.

Jane Lawrence, vice chancellor for Student Affairs at UC Merced, said the effect of the tuition increase is unknown. "It's a little early to tell exactly what the full impact will be," she said.

One-third of the increase will go to financial aid, Lawrence said. Officials at UC Merced believe that about two-thirds of its students won't be affected by the increase. About 55 percent of UC students systemwide won't have to pay any increases, officials said during the meeting. "We'll go back and look at each student's financial aid and make sure, if we can, that they have enough to cover all expenses," Lawrence said.

The annual tuition for students at UC Merced during the 2011-12 school year will be $11,220, not including $972 in student services fee, Lawrence said. Last year's tuition, not including the student services fee, was $9,402.

"I think it was a very difficult decision for the regents, because it's not easy for them to raise tuition. But at the same time they are very committed to maintaining the quality and the best possible education for our students," Lawrence said. UC Merced sophomore Jeff Piety is in a situation similar to Sushchikh's. In his two years in college, he's had to take out three loans totaling $10,000. "I'm going to be working my entire life to pay this off," he said.

Richard Ramirez, a senior at UC Merced, said he's going to have to cram classes in the coming school year because he can't afford to return for an additional year. "I only have a year left, but I feel bad already because my mom is working overtime," he said. "We are struggling to pay the tuition."

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209 385-2482, or yamaro@mercedsun.com.