After the University of California's governing board meets today, undergrads may breathe a sigh of relief, but many grad students will probably want to grab their wallets.
UC regents are voting on two matters concerning fall tuition: freezing it for undergraduates and once again making steep increases to fees at many of UC's professional schools.
Law school fees at UC Davis would go up by 10 percent, business school fees at UC Berkeley would rise by 23 percent and nursing school fees would go up 35 percent at UC campuses in Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
That means an MBA at Berkeley would cost $50,740 for California residents this year not including room or board. And it would get even more expensive in 2013-14.
"The university has had to seek income wherever it can," said Larry Pitts, UC's former provost, who led the effort to raise professional school fees. "And many of the professional programs are so excellent that students are willing to pay."
Raising fees on professional school students usually does not create the political beast for UC regents that undergraduate tuition hikes cause. Many graduates of those schools go on to lucrative careers, easing the burden of repaying student loans.
But UC is expanding the definition of a professional school. Traditionally, the label referred to law, business and medical schools. Today it refers to 57 programs including educational leadership, public health and urban planning allowing UC to charge more students the extra fees.
Regents will be meeting today with student protesters who say the proposals illustrate UC's march toward privatization. Dressed as zombies, the protesters plan to dramatize what a news release described as the "death of public education."
"For many people in these programs, it's a serious problem to graduate with a lot of loans," said Logan Rockefeller Harris, 29, who is pursuing a double master's degree at UC Berkeley's schools of public health and environmental design, which are both facing tuition increases this year.
Harris said she expects to work in the nonprofit or public sectors when she graduates in two years. She thinks she'll be lucky to earn a salary of $50,000.
"Increasing professional degree fees in many areas where people are not looking at lucrative opportunities is really troubling," Harris said.
Pitts said the tuition increases are part of a long pattern. Since the late 1990s, UC's professional schools have received less state funding than academic graduate and undergraduate programs and have gradually turned to students to make up the difference. The pace is accelerating in some programs as UC copes with a steep drop in state funding as a result of the recession.
The new fees will make most UC professional schools more expensive than most comparable public school programs nationwide but still less expensive than similar private schools. Tuition at Harvard's business school, for example, is $53,500.
The tuition levels are getting so close to those of private schools and the public funding so minimal that at least one UC grad school has said it wants to go private.
UCLA's Anderson School of Management, where fees would go up 9 percent this fall, is exploring the possibility of forgoing public funding altogether and relying solely on tuition.
UC's own Commission on the Future urged the university in 2010 to expand its self-supporting programs to help UC's bottom line.
Steve Boilard, the head of higher education for the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, supported UC's decision to focus public resources on undergraduate education, and leave grad students footing more of their own bill.
"If the preponderance of the benefit accrues to the individual, it makes sense for the individual to bear most of the cost," he said.
Undergraduate education is different, Boilard said, because society overall benefits from people getting bachelor's degrees.
UC's undergrad tuition has risen sharply the last few years but may hit a plateau. The state budget Gov. Jerry Brown signed last month calls for freezing tuition at UC and CSU if voters approve Proposition 30, his temporary tax increase on the November ballot.
UC regents will vote today on freezing tuition at roughly $12,200 a year and endorsing the ballot measure. If the ballot measure fails, UC officials have said they likely would increase tuition by 20 percent in January. That would mean a double-whammy for grad students, who pay the base undergraduate tuition in addition to their rising professional school fees.