The Cost of College: California

Over the last several years, the cost of a college education in Minnesota has gone up several percent, but the range of services and opportunities one may have access to has not gone up (and in many cases gone down). This is probably true across the country. Right now, in California, there is debate over a 32 percent student fee increase. Which reminds me: There was a time when you could estimate the cost of college by knowing “tuition” and then cost of living while in college, and throwing in a couple of hundred bucks a year for other stuff like books. Then the book prices went through the roof so that a full time college student in the humanities may pay 500 to 1000 a year on books and related items, and a person in some other fields two to four times that, unless a lot of scrounging is done. And, student fees are tuition, just not linked directly to credits.

In California,

Students feel disproportionately targeted by the UC’s hikes and cuts, shouldering a large share of the budget shortfall as fees rise and services disappear. Moreover, there is no indication whether these adjustments will suffice or if further painful steps will be necessary. The UC student of tomorrow will pay more to receive less.


The proposed fee hike is a bit different from some other price increases because it comes mid year, which has implications for individual choices students may have otherwise made, as pointed out in an editorial in the student-run City on a Hill Press:

This new fee hike proposal leaves us especially helpless. We’re already in school, close to having a third of this year done, and many of us are well into our long-term academic tracks. Proposing increases for next year is one thing, as it allows us to finish out our year and plan accordingly. But applying these fees mid-year feels like a trap: pay the increase or leave. And unless we want to stunt our well-earned momentum from this quarter, paying more seems to be our only real option.

That’s a little like hiking up the cost of your groceries while they are still in the cart. Which, by the way, happened to me once, but that’s another story.

I think we need to find a way to pay for higher education that is different than the one we use now.


  1. #1 Sam N
    November 23, 2009

    That’s an interesting perspective, and one I hadn’t considered being a graduate student who scarcely bothers to look at my tuition. It seems it would only be fair to lock in a rate for a four-year educational track.

    Also, I don’t know how this effects cost, but as a relatively recent graduate of the Minnesota state university system, it seems to me that too many people are trying to go to undergraduate institutions. The rate of dropout, and failure for certain courses, is astounding. I was in the ‘honors program’ and the majority still seemed an uninterested and lazy lot. If you just want a degree to have a reasonable skill set and make money, go to technical or vocational college.

  2. #2 jj
    November 23, 2009

    Thank you so much for covering this! Big props to City on the hill press for getting coverage here (UCSC!). As an FYI, the 32.5% increase was in fact approved last Thursday by the UC regents. Protests on all UC campuses (minus UCSF) are in full swing.

  3. #3 jj
    November 23, 2009

    Your point is part of the reason for the protests against the UC regents. Schools like UCSC are growing larger than they were ever meant to be, and keep growing (See the controversy behind the UCSC LRDP). The addition of new UC schools (Merced), and the overall bloating of the UC system is what most students are protesting. With shrinking finances, and growing student bodies, students are seeing higher and higher fees, and getting few and few courses and departments.

    Now, how do you decided who gets in and who doesn’t without looking biased is hard, but one would assume if tuition goes up by over $10,000 more (which it will by next fall), who’s going to be able to afford to go?

    The UC school system is not supposed be ran like a business – it’s an educational institution funded mostly by the state and subsidized by the students. The regents (who are appointed and do not listen to any of the elected officials) and executives keep getting pay raises, while the college students, staff (by way of furlongs and job cuts)and faculty (by way of department cuts) are footing the bill.

    I say to all UC students being active in the protest, keep up the good work, stay non-violent, and make the regents look like the bastards they are.

  4. #4 jj
    November 23, 2009

    With shrinking finances, and growing student bodies, students are seeing higher and higher fees, and getting few and few courses and departments

    Should read: With shrinking finances, and growing student bodies, students are seeing higher and higher fees, and getting fewer and fewer courses and departments

  5. #5 Jim Thomerson
    November 23, 2009

    If I am not mistaken, higher education in California was tuition free some years ago. While I was a student at University of Texas, the tuition went up 100%, from $25 a semester to $50 a semester.

  6. #6 Karen
    November 23, 2009

    Higher education in the University of California and California State University systems has never really been tuition-free; it’s just that the tuition is called “fees”. But now students in both systems who really can’t afford it are being absolutely hammered by fee increases. A 32.5% fee raise, though, feels over-the-top and I’m not surprised it’s spawned student protests.

    The problem is fundamental: the state has no money.

  7. #7 Phil
    November 24, 2009

    As some of the signs at the protest pointed out, prison populations have grown exponentially. California spends more on prisons than colleges at a time when crime rates are at the lowest since the 1960s.

  8. #8 MadScientist
    November 24, 2009

    @jj: Yes, the crocodiles of management are raping the education system – it is a global phenomenon. Everyone thinks they’re Jack Welch. Society really needs to get its act together and pay those managers what they’re worth – which isn’t really much. Unfortunately the USA (and it seems to be a contagious thing) has got this bizarre fascination with overpaid bozos and the bozos really do form their little clubs which allow them to pat themselves on the back and vote themselves more money.

  9. #9 Rich Wilson
    November 24, 2009

    Do keep in mind that the fee increase is scaled. There’s no increase for family income under $70K

  10. #10 jj
    November 24, 2009


    The problem is fundamental: the state has no money.

    This is the problem, but the UC system needs/ed better management of it’s money. There have been protests years about the wasteful spending of the UC regents. They have been warned by students, staff and faculty over and over. Protest about the budget are quite common every year. Normally it is due to some crazy pay raise the regents give themselves, then they cut pay to the staff (who then strike) and then the students jump on. This year it’s a bit different when they raise the fees in the middle of the school year.

  11. #11 Sam N
    November 24, 2009

    @8, MadScientist

    It is an interesting phenomenon. Management makes decisions which result in enormously large profit or savings of money. Because of the enormous sums involved in upper management, they declare they are worth a substantial fraction of that money. What is not taken into account is how difficult the decisions were, compared to say some engineer working in the company, who consequently would have easily made the same decision, but nonetheless earns a fraction of management salary. Although to hear it from the executives their decisions really are so difficult, that they are irreplaceable and truly deserve that money. I don’t buy it for one second.

  12. #12 Sarah
    November 25, 2009

    @9 That will still screw a lot of students who, like me, had parents who appeared to make more than $70k per year and couldn’t afford to pay for my college*. I got through working and on loans which I am still paying off (for undergrad nearly 10 years ago!). It sucks to be the student who can’t get help because the financing institutions don’t look at your income and assume that your parents will/can pay. I had a number of friends in that situation in college and even with tuition what it was 10 years ago could sometimes only afford to take a few classes a year. The only other option is to wait until you are 24 when FAFSA quits looking at your parents, of course that leaves you years behind in the job market…

    *Part of this is that FAFSA does not take into account things like having younger siblings, house payments or anything else. These days $70k per year for a family of four is barely into the middle class.