Dozens of UC Merced students gathered at the school's quad holding red balloons and signs declaring fee hikes unfair, as part of a national day of action to defend public education.
Throughout the state, University of California students launched similar protests at their own campuses, only on much larger scales, to express frustration over cuts to education.
Last year, the state had a $24 billion budget gap. It cut $637 million in funding to the UC system. Students and teachers bore a good portion of the burden of these cuts.
In November 2009, UC Regents approved a 32 percent fee hike, bringing tuition to more than $10,000 by this fall.
The protest scene at UC Merced was tame compared to ones at other campuses, specifically UC Berkeley, where hundreds of students marched into the library held a sit-in, according to the Daily Californian, the UC Berkeley campus newspaper.
At UC Merced students sang songs, registered to vote and talked to members of Save Our Schools (SOS), the main organizers of the event.
"What we're demanding is a rollback of fee hikes," said Anna Schoendorfer, founder of the campus branch of SOS. "The people making decisions are self-serving and aren't based on how people in the university community will benefit."
The 22-year old sociology student said the group will continue to protest until their demands are met.
Their demands include having an open dialogue with the administration; an end to fee hikes, layoffs and furloughs; and for the state legislature and federal government to pass the the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act, which would grant certain undocumented college students citizenship after finishing college.
The DREAM act was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in late September.
Schoendorfer said she's already seen the impact of budget cuts at UC Merced because of overcrowding in some of her classes. "They are trying to get more students with fewer classes," she said. "The problem is we're paying more with less."
According to Patti Istas, UC Merced spokeswoman, the only way the campus will continue growing is by having more students and more faculty. "You can't have more buildings until you show there's more demand," she said. "This year, that has been more clear."
The school planned for 4,000 students, but took in an additional 400 this fall.
"There is a lack of space on campus, and we are working with our legislature. We are already looking for additional buildings," she said. "The growth will come, but we are in the middle of an economic meltdown, so it's hard to get the economic funding."
Overall, UC Merced hasn't had to deal with the same issues other UCs have faced, such as layoffs and cutting classes.
"We are on a growth trajectory," Istas added. "Faculty numbers, student numbers -- they are going to be growing. That's not the case at other universities where they are maxed out."
That may be true, but some UC Merced students are still sending out an SOS.
Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached (209)385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.