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UC ordered to refund $38 million to students for breaching fee freeze

By Srbui Karapetian

March 28, 2010 9:05 p.m.

A San Francisco Superior Court ruling on March 12 ordered the University of California to refund about $38 million to professional degree students for breaching a contract that promised a fee freeze throughout their enrollment at the university.

The ruling by Judge John E. Munter affects about 2,900 students, most of whom had enrolled in school in the summer of 2003 or thereafter, and have already graduated.

Medical, dental, law, pharmacy, business and other professional students were charged fee increases of up to $6,400 in a single year, according to the press release issued by the Altshuler Berzon LLP law firm in San Francisco, which represented the students in this case.

Judge Munter said in the ruling that when the students applied for and accepted the university’s offer of admission during 2002-2003, the university’s official fee publications explained that professional degree fees would remain the same throughout a student’s enrollment.

The UC, on the other hand, asserts that there was adequate information suggesting that the professional students’ fee freeze policy would end and would not continue with the incoming class of 2003.

“By the end of their programs, some students were paying over $8,000 more in annual fees than what they expected when they started,” said Danielle Leonard, an attorney who represented the UC students.

The case began in 2005, when UCLA law school graduate Andrea Luquetta filed suit, alleging that the university raised professional school fees despite its policy stating that fee levels would remain constant, effective since fall 1994, according to the summary of the judgment order issued by the judge.

“The reason that a lot of people go to UC professional schools is because it is affordable, and it is particularly important for those that want to use professional degrees in non-lucrative areas,” Luquetta said.

“UC believes that the university never made any promise to these students that their fees would remain constant while they were enrolled in their professional programs,” said UC spokesman Peter King.

“By the time these students enrolled in 2003-2004, it was very clear that the policy was no longer in effect,” he added, alluding to the state’s financial downturn and the UC’s attempt to remain afloat during the crisis.

The UC counsel, headed by Christopher Patti, is reviewing the ruling with the idea that there is a strong likelihood to appeal the decision, King said.

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