For the fifth year in a row, the University of California Board of Regents voted to increase undergraduate, graduate and professional student fees in its annual UC budget approval process.

The Regents, in a 17-2 vote yesterday, approved an eight percent – $492 for California residents – increase for UC undergraduate student fees, despite the protests of members of the Coalition of University Employees (CUE) and the University of California Students Association (UCSA). In-state graduate students will see a 10 percent, or $690, increase. However, the Return to Aid program, which was outlined in the proposed budget, will allocate 33 percent of the new revenue generated from the increases to pay for financial aid programs.

In addition to protesting the UC fee increase, the members of the UCSB Associated Students Legislative Council held their meeting in Berkeley last night and decided to allocate $9,000 to help fund a student volunteer trip to aid Hurricane victims on the Gulf Coast.

The fee increase for the 2006-2007 school year comes at a time that the Regents are designating an “educational crisis” within the state of California, citing decreased state funding and the growing need to improve education, services and employee wages.

UC President Robert C. Dynes said the fees will not affect students from low-income families and only about half of all UC students will see the increase in their tuition bill, because part of the money from the increases will go toward financial aid programs.

“Low-income students will not see these fees,” Dynes said. “Because we are sensitive to the needs of financial aid recipients, only about half of the students will have to pay the additional fees.”

According to a UC press release, the new budget will also provide funding for enrollment growth of about 2.5 percent for undergraduates, decrease the student-faculty ratio and make it possible to offer a “wider range of courses to help students complete requirements and graduate more quickly.” It will also broaden UC-sponsored academic preparation programs in K-12 schools in California and increase faculty and staff salaries.

The increase comes with a promise from the Regents that the fees will be rescinded and that system-wide rates will remain at the current school year’s level, so long as Governor Schwarzenegger’s budget for the next fiscal year includes more funding for higher education. The governor’s budget will be proposed in January.

In the hours before yesterday’s vote, Appointed Regent Sherry L. Lansing attempted to amend the budget through a line-item delay, which would have left the rest of the budget intact but would postpone the decision about fee increases until Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal was released. Her proposal was met with enthusiasm from several board members and many students attending the meeting, but the motion failed in an 11-8 vote.

Prior to the vote, a heated debate between UC Regents, students, organizations and employees took up most of the morning hours. CUE, a UC-wide clerical workers’ labor union, wore shirts reading “UC: The Enron of Higher Education” as several of its members spoke to the Regents about the hardships of UC employment. UCSA presented a speech and PowerPoint presentation about students struggling under the burden of increased fees placed upon them and their families.

“I ask you, Regents: Can California families really afford the University of California’s definition of affordable education?” Anu Joshi, UCSA president and UC Berkeley senior, said to the Regents.

Other displays of disapproval also occurred as the meeting progressed. A group of unidentified students stormed Berkeley’s Clark Kerr Auditorium where the meeting was held, loudly humming the melodies to circus songs and shouting “The Regents are clowns!” Also, UCSB Legislative Council members took part in a shouting match from the auditorium’s balcony with Appointed Regent George M. Marcus over the applicability of financial aid to middle- as well as low-income students.

“It is the Regents’ responsibility to ensure that your degree is worth more than it was for previous UC students,” Marcus said, aiming his comments toward the balcony where ASUCSB was sitting. “You should be volunteering to increase fees so the people who come after you get as good of an education as you’re getting!”

The Regents responded to the upset students and worker concerns by citing fee-increase comparisons to other public universities, as well as decreased state-funding statistics, and with the reassurance that their money was not going into the Regents’ own pockets – a frequent accusation of the yelling protestors.

“Every time we have had to increase fees are times when the state has cut funding to us,” Bruce B. Darling, senior vice president of university affairs, said. “We are in an educational crisis. However, we still have arguably the best financial aid program over any other public school.”

Darling later added that, despite past fee increases, about the same percentage of freshmen from middle-income families have enrolled in UC since 1992, signifying that higher cost has not been a deterrent for most families. He also cited figures about the state’s allocation of funds in the past 10 years.

“Funding for prisons has increased by 165 percent, and funding for health and human services has increased by 31 percent, while state funding for higher education has decreased by 9 percent,” Darling said.

President Dynes maintained that, if UC does not get the funding it needs from the state, funds have to be taken from the students.

“If the [State] legislature would provide us with these funds, I would be very happy,” Dynes said. “Nobody wants these fee increases.”

As disappointed as ASUCSB’s Leg Council and the rest of the student groups were about the outcome of the vote, they did express relief over the RTA program outlined in the Budget. ASUCSB External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Felicia Cruz said she was upset that the fee increase had been approved, but was happy that some of the money would be going back to financial aid.

“We were very pleased about the 33 percent RTA for undergrads,” Cruz said. “We were disappointed that we didn’t get a fee freeze or postponement until January, but we hope that UCOP and the legislature will work with us in the future.”

At Legislative Council’s regular meeting last night, which took place in Berkeley, the council allocated $9,000 to a group of approximately 15 to 20 A.S. members and other UCSB volunteers to travel to New Orleans over Winter Break to help aid hurricane victims. Leg Council member Tuyen Nguyen, a second-year mathematics major who helped organized the trip, said the money would be used primarily for transportation costs as the group is going to drive to Louisiana.

ASUCSB Leggies will be in Berkeley today for the second day of the Board of Regents Meeting and to lead a protest with other students against the fee increases. According to Cruz, approximately 80 more UCSB students will arrive from Santa Barbara to protest. Bill Shiebler, a third-year sociology major who sits on the board of the United States Students Association and who helped organize the trip, said buses partially funded by donations from Chancellor Henry Yang and local State Assemblyman Pedro Nava, as well as A.S. funds will pay to transport the protesters.