What? No fee hike?

As part of a series of moves likely designed to mend fences with California liberals, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to propose freezing university fee hikes for one year.

The plan, to be unveiled when the governor presents his 2006-07 budget by Jan. 10, would affect both the University of California and California State University systems. They would get an extra $75 million and $54.4 million, respectively.

The proposal caught CSU leaders by surprise. Trustees had voted in October 2004 to raise student fees by 8 percent for undergraduates and 10 percent for graduate students in fall 2006—which amounts to $2,724 a year for undergrads. (Campus-based fees are assessed separately.)

The planned increases, which would have made for a 90-percent hike since 2001, were wearing on students, particularly student leaders who have gathered to protest them at Board of Trustees meetings and other venues.

Thomas Whitcher, Associated Students president at Chico State University, said students have had enough of people from lower- and middle-class families being shut out of an education.

“Every campus president is united against fee increases,” he said. “I’m hopeful we can keep that momentum through the spring.”

Whitcher said student leaders have to “re-educate” new legislators each year. Most of them aren’t aware that massive cuts handed CSUs in the early 1990s were never restored.

He also mentioned that CSU trustees actually proposed an extra 2-percent increase for employee raises, and the governor’s freeze would not cover that.

Whitcher, whose faith in the governor has waned since he took office, said, “Maybe now he’s actually going to listen to students.

At the Chancellor’s Office, the reaction was optimistic.

“Chancellor [Charles] Reed learned about the plan last week and was very pleased. He thought this was the best New Year’s present for CSU students,” related Clara Potes-Fellow, director of media relations for the system. “This is good news for CSU students. If the legislature approves it, our students, who are mostly working students, will not see a fee increase in fall 2006.”

“The chancellor said that this proposal signals that the Higher Education Compact between the governor and the CSU and UC works. It proves that the compact is a floor, not a ceiling,” she added, referring to a multi-year agreement previously reached.

In addition to the freeze, Cal Grants would be increased from a $8,322 maximum to $9,708.

Also in the days leading up to his Jan. 5 State of the State address, Schwarzenegger announced that he is proposing a $4 billion increase in funds to K-12 education, and he is also expected to suggest a $1-an-hour increase in the minimum wage, something he previously opposed.