Sunday, January 29, 2012

UC Sticker Shock

This piece originally appeared on the Frying Pan <> in slightly altered form.

Budget cuts are suffocating the University of California. Tuition and fees are skyrocketing. Admission rates of California residents declined this year at all but one of the University’s ten campuses. All this seems a far cry from the University’s trajectory set over fifty years ago, and it is turning students away from the schools that once seemed so appealing.

Now in the heat of college applications season, many high school seniors are wondering if the UCs are worth attending. When tuition hikes are regular news and student sit-ins and protests are commonplace, it’s hard to see the upside. However, most high school students remain optimistic about their chances and the UCs in general. “Im not too worried,” said Tim Rusch, a senior at Santa Monica High, “I’ll do my best on the application and I know they accept a diverse group of kids.”

The modern University of California system was set up by the California Master Plan for Higher Education, the 1960 act that reorganized the state’s colleges into a more inclusive, efficient and intelligent system. The point was to reduce costs, increase graduates, and better prepare California’s students for an economy in which they would soon participate.

Reduced funding from the state government has slowly but surely eaten away at those fundamental principles. Originally incurring $0 tuition for in-state admits in 1961 ($500 for out-of-state), living on campus at a UC, including tuition, room and board, and fees for books, etc. is estimated at $31,200 this year alone (  The Universities court students from outside California because they pay an extra $22,878 and the Universities need all the cash they can get. Over the past two years, Berkeley alone has admitted 1,881 fewer California residents and 1,894 more out-of-state students, virtually a one-for-one swap.

This tendency to accommodate out-of-staters for their increased tuition hurts California’s  education and economy. Because fewer Californians attend these prestigious universities, more are forced either to attend a school out of the state (racking up significantly more debt) or settle for a school that isn’t right for them. The result is a generation of young, Californian workers chained by financial obligations and lacking the proper educations or opportunities for success.

Fixing this problem will be relatively simple if state government allows. Taxes must be raised in order to sustain the universities and relieve students of their ever-growing burden. A state tax on oil extraction would be a good place to start, as we are the only oil-producing state that lacks one. With additional state funding, the schools will rely less on out-of-state tuition and philanthropic contribution, and accept more and more students from California’s high schools.

These are our universities, they are the pride of our education system. We pay for them in taxes and we benefit from their research and ingenuity. It’s time for Jerry Brown to take a page from his father’s playbook and team up with legislators to reform the University. If not, many Californians won’t have the opportunities, educational and economic, that could save individuals and state government from financial ruin. 

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