The UCLA Westwood campus came close to resembling a riot zone last week, as students marched out of classes, staged sit-ins and defiantly opposed police, who arrived in force with their protective shielding, pepper spray and tasers.

The melee at the University of California’s largest campus wasn’t about education, curriculum or homework, but money — the unprecedented, 32-percent fee increase approved by school regents last week, effectively hiking UCLA tuition to more than $10,000, for the start of the 2010 fall semester.

But as the dust settles on the student versus police headline grabber, the effects — financial, educational and personal — extend far beyond the hallways of any one of the seven UC schools across the state.

In Ventura County, there is no fully operating UC campus, yet the backlash against the fee hikes is felt just as strongly by local residents with ties to the academic community.

Cathy Kroll of Ventura, whose daughter attends UCLA, was disheartened by the announcement of the fee increase.

“It’s just additional money we’re going to have to come up with,” she said. “I think it’s something we’re able to do, but the greater concern we have is there’re a lot of students who cannot get help from their parents.”

Brian Cook, a Ventura College graduate, finds himself in a bind.

Because of his specialized field in hydrologic engineering, Cook has two choices for pursuing his bachelor’s degree: attend the University of California in Santa Barbara, or go to school in Humboldt County, far away from family.

But Cook chose the former, and applied to UCSB well before the fee increases went into effect. If his application is accepted, Cook, who is also independent, lives on a fixed income and foots his own tuition bill, will pay an additional $2,500 next fall.

“For me, it’s almost five or six months rent,” he said. “I’m just hoping for any subsidies or grants I can get.”

According to details from UC, the fee increase is expected to generate $505 million, $175 million of which will be set aside for financial aid. Regents also approved changes to a school program called the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, under which household incomes of $70,000 a year and lower can have all their system-wide fees paid for if students meet the requirements for receiving financial aid.

Cook has had hopes of attending a UC campus, where a small percentage hails from Ventura County. According to updated statistics, there are currently 22,850 undergraduate students at UCSB; 1,044 originate from Ventura County, and from that number, 372 are new.

UCSB’s 65-student Ventura County satellite campus, as well, is slated to shut its doors by the end of the 2010 fall quarter, a consequence of $45 million in cuts to the Santa Barbara campus. No new enrollments are being accepted for spring 2010.

Other public schools haven’t fared much better. Cal State University schools, including its Channel Islands campus in Camarillo, endured a 20-percent increase to tuition and fees announced in July.

But where student protest over fee hikes at CSUCI this past summer was nearly comparable to the UCLA fracas last week, Cal State’s real burden is in overcrowding. If the public university student looking for the lesser of two fee evils — 32 percent for UC vs. 20 percent for CSU — wants to attend CSUCI, they may find the wait due to a backlog of applications is enough to delay graduation for more than just a few semesters.

“We get more applications than we can afford to accommodate,” says Jane Sweetland, CSUCI’s dean of enrollment.

CSUCI, said Sweetland, has already received close to 3,000 freshman applications this year; the school can only enroll 500, the standing maximum amount mandated last year by school officials, when enrollment was flattened. The application deadline for fall 2010 is midnight of Nov. 30.

Application numbers there have been steady for the past three years. In 2007, CSUCI received 5,570 freshman applications; 2,444 were admitted, and 532 enrolled. More than 6,600 applications came in the following year; 2,157 were admitted; 500 enrolled. With 5,200 prospective students applying for the current school year, 3,000 were accepted, and 500 taken in. The numbers reflect students who apply to several schools and chose not to attend CSUCI.

Many students who were accepted but didn’t attend may have opted for the private school route. In the case of Cal Lutheran University, students who are accepted to CLU and one of four select UC locations have the option to receive the more expensive Cal Lutheran education at University of California prices — cheaper still even with the impending, 32-percent UC fee hike.

A standard CLU tuition, according to the school’s media relations manager, Karin Grennan, is about $28,980 per year. Enrollment at CLU is healthy, with a student body of 3,714 this fall, a 6-percent jump from last year. Of that total, 2,352, said Grennan, are undergraduates.

Moorpark resident Dakota Fog was accepted to both schools last year and chose CLU, where he is currently in his freshman year at the Thousand Oaks campus.

“Just the fact that it’s a private school was a big reason for me,” he said. “You always hear that UCs are good schools, and people question my motives (for attending private school). No-one in the world can convince me otherwise.”

One of Fog’s motivations for his choice was that program and services at private schools, he said, are more stable because they are tuition driven, and aren’t as vulnerable to changes in state and federal budgets

Despite the financial bind, and a lack of schools offering his major, Cook of Ventura says he feels fortunate for the opportunity to apply to UC, fee hikes notwithstanding.

“I feel bad for the students who are totally dependent on the system,” he said. “Those are the people who are going to be really disenfranchised.”   

paul@vcreporter.com