A California state senator visited UCSB on Friday afternoon to get feedback about potential UC fee increases and the financial stress they would cause to local students.

About a dozen students, including several Associated Students members, chatted with Sen. Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) in the UCen Harbor Room to discuss the amount of debt they and other students will accumulate before graduating and how rising tuition fees may negatively affect California business. Speier also talked about the comparatively high state spending on prison inmates versus low state spending on college students.

Speier, in the midst of a several-month-long tour of UC campuses, said the fee increases listed in the May 2004 “compact” between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the UC Office of the President (UCOP) would put “financial straitjackets” on students.

The compact increases undergraduate fees an average of 10 percent each year until 2007. Graduate student fees increased by 20 percent for this school year, and they will also increase 10 percent each year until 2007.

“Until we can explain to the public what it means to increase [students’] fees, they won’t get it,” Speier said. “[The public] needs to appreciate how destructive that is for their future.”

Increasing student fees will put the future population of California in debt, Speier said. The state’s “greatest minds” might leave to attend cheaper universities, and California’s future successful businesses, jobs and aspiring entrepreneurs would follow them, she said.

She said the UC system has built an excellent reputation for producing Nobel Prize winners and facilitating pioneering research in various fields and technologies, such as the Internet.

“We take much of that for granted,” Speier said. “We are going to lose that status.”

After the meeting, A.S. External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Felicia Cruz said the average student will probably be $15,000 to $20,000 in debt after graduating. She said she bases this estimate on information gathered from a recent lobbying campaign in Sacramento, where about 1,100 students created fake checks inscribed with how much money they plan to owe. Students must work longer hours while trying to do well in school because of fee increases and the decrease in the number of grants and low-interest loans available for students, she said.

“Just from freshman year to now, I’ve seen an increase in people, for one, getting jobs, and two, getting jobs off campus because on-campus has a 20-hour-a-week work limit,” Cruz said. “[Also], as resources dwindle, they have to take outside loans with higher interest rates.”

Speier said that when she attended UC San Francisco’s Hastings College of the Law, student fees were $300 per quarter.

“In the ’60s, [the state gave] UC 60 percent of its funding,” Speier said. “Now it’s 18 percent from the state. … Are we prepared to privatize the UC? Because that’s where we’re headed.”

Speier said much of the money diverted from funding higher education goes to the state prison system.

“We spend three times as much on inmates as students,” she said. “We’ve made some choices to spend tax dollars at the cost of students.”

Campus resources such as Campus Learning Assistance Services must look to other sources of funding, such as student lock-in fees, when the state decreases funding, Cruz said. The number and variety of academic classes also declines, forcing students to stay at the university for a longer period of time.

Speier said that prior to Friday’s discussion, she was unaware of such consequences.

“I was surprised that some students can’t get through in four years,” she said.

Near the end of the meeting, several students said they thought state legislators should be more active in stopping fee increases.

Speier said she would like to invite students to testify before the California State Assembly Committee on Education, on which she sits, to talk about the expense of education and how it affects them.