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Shehnaz Bhujwala
Shehnaz Bhujwala
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UC Regents Ordered to Pay Refunds to Professional Students for Improper Tuition Hikes

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California’s Supreme Court has denied the University of California’s appeal in Kashmiri v. Regents of University of California, awarding thousands of professional students $40 million enrolled in UC programs whose tuition fees were increased during the 2002-2003 school year, despite the Regents’ promise to hold fees steady.

The class action lawsuit was filed in San Francisco July of 2003, when eight UC students found that their respective universities had increased fees more than twice the amount promised to them upon their acceptance. In 2003, fees for law and business students were increased from $6,000 to almost $9,500 a year, and were raised again to more than $14,000 the following year. Similar increases occurred at other professional schools.

In March 2006, a San Francisco County court ruled in favor of students. The First District Court of Appeals ruled on Nov. 2 to uphold that ruling, writing in the decision that implied contracts had been formed in UC literature, both in published catalogs and online. In an interview with UC Davis’ California Aggie newspaper, attorney for plaintiffs Danielle Leonard stated: “There was the promise that they would not raise the professional degree for the duration of the students’ enrollment. The university could raise the professional degree fee for incoming classes of students, but once the student is in, they said they would keep it the same.”

The court’s order only applies to current professional students who enrolled in the UC program before Dec. 16, 2002, and whose fee was increased after that date. The refunds total about $34 million, plus $6 million in interest. Lawyers in the case estimated that the refunds would amount to $10,000 or more for some students. The payments will go to 9,163 students from law and medical schools and other professional graduate programs who enrolled before 2003. The rest of the money, about $100 per student, will be distributed among more than 30,000 students who were enrolled in the spring or summer of 2003.

While the plaintiff’s victory presents an advantage to those students affected by that particular fee increase, UC is now faced with the problem of supplying the $40 million. According to UC spokesperson Ricardo Vàzquez, the regents have not yet decided on where this money will come from. A concrete effect of the lawsuits, however, is that the UC has stopped making written promises not to increase fees. “Those policies were rescinded and all those references that happened to be in certain publications were removed,” Vazquez said in an interview with UCLA’s Daily Bruin.

Another suit, Luquetta v. Regents of the University of California, is currently pending in Superior Court, filed by about 2,700 students at UC professional schools who say the university raised their fees in fall 2004 despite a similar promise not to. Refunds of $15 million to $20 million are being sought in that action.