The University of California Board of Regents recently approved a massive 32 percent hike in tuition and student fees. This $2,500 increase brings the total cost of an undergraduate education in the University of California public university system to more than $10,000, not including room and board.

Over the last 10 years, tuition costs have tripled in the University of California system. While tuition and student fees increase, the university is eliminating positions, reducing wages, laying off staff and faculty, and cutting courses, majors and minors, and other things related to academic programs.

Rather than simply accepting this raw deal, students, staff and faculty responded with spirited protests at different UC campuses including Berkeley, Santa Cruz, Davis, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. They called for a three-day strike, staged demonstrations, sit-ins and teach-ins, and even occupied buildings. Prior to this round of protests, students held study-ins to keep libraries open past close.

Not surprisingly, police overreacted by coming out in riot gear and setting up steel barricades. A number of students were arrested, and reports allege that police beat demonstrators with batons, fired rubber bullets and used tasers.

Beyond the educational impact of the cuts, the fee increases will put an added strain on middle- and lower-income students and their families. Students will have to work extra jobs and take out additional student loans. Others will be forced to leave the UC system and possibly enroll elsewhere.

The UC system will cater to wealthier out-of-state students, to the detriment of in-state students from underrepresented groups. Diversity will likely decline even further as racial minorities and low-income students get locked out of opportunities in higher education.

UC President Mark Yudof insists that there is little the Board of Regents can do considering the state of California’s financial constraints. Yudof puts it simply, saying “when you don’t have any money, you don’t have any money.”

However, according to Bob Samuels, the president of the University of California American Federation of Teachers, the state of California contributes to only 15 percent of the university system’s budget and says the UC system actually brought in significant revenue and federal stimulus money last year.

Samuels points to a number of other factors that have contributed to the current situation. These include university mismanagement, huge losses on university investments in toxic assets and real estate, huge salaries for administrators and star faculty, and subsidies for the athletic department, which is losing money.

While discussion of the situation focuses on California, the issue is of national significance. The University of California system has been considered one of the most vibrant in the country, providing affordable and high-quality public education.

It signals a broader trend of public university education costing more and being available to fewer segments of society. Student loans and debts are increasing and many graduates are finding it harder to pay off loans because of low-paying jobs or inability to find a job at all. So while UC students protest the fee increase and cuts in wages, jobs and academic programs, they are also fighting for something much broader: the notion of education as a public good.