NEW BRIEFS: Public College Affordability in California … Things Have Changed


Since the lofty idealism of the 1960s, the goal of making college affordable for all Californians has been in dogged decline.

Tuition at both the University of California and California State systems has tripled over the last 15 years. And now, leaders of both institutions are pondering another increase.

The result, according to a new survey, is that many Californians no longer see a path into public higher education.

The study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 85 percent of Californians surveyed now think that tuition costs at the state’s public colleges and universities present a problem.

To critics, the worries are more evidence of a betrayal of mission enshrined in California’s higher education system: that any resident who worked hard enough would be guaranteed a first-rate university education.

At the moment, the University of California’s undergraduate tuition and fees are roughly $13,500 a year, well above the national average for public universities. At Cal State, about $6,900.

A University of California spokesman, Ricardo Vazquez, noted that the Public Policy Institute survey showed that a wide majority of Californians judged the quality of instruction at the state’s public colleges and universities favorably.

But, he added in a statement, “The findings also show that Californians are aware and concerned, as is U.C., that public higher education in the state is severely underfunded.”

According to the University of California, the system relied on state funding for nearly a quarter of its budget as recently as 2002. That figure is now about 10 percent, after more than $1 billion in cuts.

Still, representatives of both Cal State and the University of California said that the tuition of a majority of their students was fully covered by financial aid.

The costs of transportation, textbooks and housing, however, are another matter.

University students have reported struggles with soaring housing costs in the areas surrounding many of the campuses, in places like Irvine, Santa Barbara and Berkeley. In July, a survey found that one in five University of California students sometimes went hungry.

“And by low income, I mean with a family income that’s under $30,000,” said Debbie Cochrane, vice president at the organization. “So, that is a hefty price tag.”

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