At Columbia College, the first day of school found the campus hot and drowsy.

The sun beat down on slow-moving students as they drifted from class to class, sometimes stopping to get snacks in the cafeteria or chat with old friends. Some, stopping for lunch at noon, watched reflections of rainless clouds drift across San Diego Reservoir at the center of campus.

Even those shocked by higher per-unit fees complained quietly while waiting in line to pay.

Because of California's budget crisis, public college fees from community colleges to universities have risen. At the community college level, the fees rose from $11 to $18 per unit, with most classes being three or four units.

"The more classes you have, the more it adds up," said recent high-school graduate Tyler Martin, as he waited to pay his fees.

Martin, who was paying for one additional unit, had to fork over $28 the extra $10 covers student representation and helps pay for services such as the school nurse, his line mates informed him.

Sarah Holm, who returned to school full time yesterday after a two-year break, was surprised by the increases. Holm, 21, wasn't able to balance her budget by taking fewer classes.

"I have to take these classes, but it's really hard because I work full time, and I go to school full time," Holm said. Next year, she'll apply for the nursing program, and that will be even more pricey, take up more of her time and leave her less time to work.

Someone near Holm suggested the fee increase was because of the new Learning Resources/ Media Technology Center. However, that project has already been funded.

The new library is imposing compared with most buildings on campus, but a smattering of students already were using its banks of computers, study rooms and chairs facing broad panes of glass with a full view of the reservoir and the path encircling it. Clean-cut, plaid-shirted boys and tank-topped girls who have only been out of high school for three months exchanged shy smiles with the older, more relaxed crowd as they ambled their way to class. None seemed too concerned about making it in time to get their syllabi.