UC professional schools seek to ease student financial burden

Due to a sudden increase in systemwide student fees, several professional schools at campuses throughout the University of California are seeking ways to help ease the financial burden and anxiety of their students.

Last week, both UC Berkeley and UCLA’s law schools announced that they will offer scholarships to their students to cover the fee increase approved about two weeks ago.

Though the two law schools came to the decision to offer scholarships separately, it was made primarily because the tuition increase was too large and came too close to the start of school, officials said.

At its July 14 meeting, the UC Board of Regents approved a 9.6 percent fee hike to be implemented for the fall semester in addition to an 8 percent fee increase approved last November.

“This state’s retreat has been most acute at the professional schools,” said Christopher Edley, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, in an email to law school students last Thursday. “Bitter though this pill is for us to swallow, it does have one benefit: although we have less remaining state subsidy, we have more financial flexibility and more autonomy than do other academic units within the UC system.”

Additionally, officials from the UCLA School of Law announced last week that the school would be offering emergency scholarships to help ease students’ financial strain.

“The regents approved the fee hike fairly shortly before school begins, which could possibly be a source of anxiety or burden to our students who have already made plans about what the tuition was going to be,” said Rachel Moran, dean of UCLA’s law school. “To avoid that kind of difficulty for our students, we wanted to find a way to hold them harmless from those tuition hikes.”

At the UCLA law school, a careful review was run to evaluate whether there were enough resources to fund the scholarships. After determining that the school could cover the fee hike, Moran decided it “was appropriate to take the next step,” she said.

“We’re happy that we could provide (the scholarship), and we always strive to do as much as we can with the resources available,” Moran said.

Other schools in the UC system have taken different approaches in response to the fee hikes.

At UC Irvine, scholarships covering one-third of tuition will be granted to each class of law students. The scholarship for the upcoming school year will account for the 9.6 percent student fee increase, said Rebecca Avila, assistant dean of administration and finance at the UC Irvine School of Law.

While the individual schools themselves are responsible for determining how to allocate funds and resources within the school, the UC Office of the President has also been working to increase state attention to higher education, said UC spokesperson Steve Montiel.

“The senior leadership of UCOP has been working to get an agreement with the state for more reliable, predictable funding so that we can have a plan that would help us with our planning and help students and their families with planning for tuition,” Montiel said.

But despite efforts to lessen the impact of fee increases, UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly President Bahar Navab said that the scholarships are only a temporary solution.

While Navab said scholarships are great for this year, “by and large this is a Band-Aid solution, given how high professional fees are at the law school.”

“We need a long-term solution, and this doesn’t even begin to dent the financial burden that most law students are going to be facing,” she said. “Even this scholarship — will they offer this in future years? Probably not.”

With fees likely to increase in future years, Montiel said focus needs to be placed on getting legislators to understand the importance of stability and funding for the university.

“It’s a tough time,” he said. “The state is facing serious financial problems, and higher education is not the only thing being cut. But it’s important that we all continue to let legislators know that it’s important for priority to be put on funding for higher education in the state.”