Warning against declining quality and availability of public higher education, ex-officio regent and California Lt. Governor John Garamendi pledged to help halt University of California tuition increases in a teleconference yesterday.

Faculty and student organizers from both UC and California State University campuses joined Garamendi in his press conference. Meanwhile, at today’s UC Los Angeles regents meeting, students from the University of California Students Association gathered to protest recent fee increases, alleging that fees have gone up 85 percent over the course of six years without any corresponding improvement in the quality of education at the University.

Garamendi said fee increases are increasingly forcing students to incur debt or work to pay for schooling at UCs and CSUs. He said many students are intimidated by the increased tuition and choose not to attend four-year universities as a result.

“We have to change this if we are going to have a robust growing economy where everyone can participate,” Garamendi said.

Quoting a 2007 report by the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, Garamendi said high tuition prevented 1.6 million students from going to college during the 1990s, while another 2.6 million will likely face the same financial obstacles in the future.

Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association, said student fees at UCs had almost doubled over the last five years, and students often found classes they require to graduate unavailable.

“Students are paying more and actually getting less in terms of what they should get,” Taiz said. “Public higher education in California is in a crisis.”

Taiz alleged that much of the money for fee increases ends up going toward executive salaries and perks, rather than into classrooms.

Also, a 33 percent increase in executive salary over four years was proposed at the Regents meeting this week. The board, which is charged with administering the UC, is expected to vote on the proposal during its final discussion today. The salary increases are meant to attract and retain top-level administrators, such as chancellors.

Fourth-year sociology and Spanish major Jose Raygoza, a UCSA member, said about 20 UCSB students traveled to L.A. today to voice their concerns regarding fee hikes. He said nearly 100 demonstrators from UC schools asked the regents whether they had passed their “quality check,” and some wore white lab coats and goggles to emphasize this point.

However, the regents defended the need to raise fees, citing the ongoing recovery from massive budget cuts in 2003. After a seven percent hike in student fees last March, UC President Robert C. Dynes said in a press room interview that though he never liked to see hikes in student fees, increases were unavoidable if the UC expects to maintain the high quality of student services, education, faculty retention and research.

“I hate this notion of raising fees,” Dynes said. “I hate it.”