Nicholas Goldberg: Will California deliver on its promise to keep UC affordable?

one in letter to the times In May, Riverside’s Ralph Jones reminded how easy and cheap it was to go to the University of California in the old days.

When he arrived at UC Riverside in 1968, he said, he paid $105 per quarter in non-instructional fees, plus books. They paid $75 per month to share a “nice” two-bedroom apartment. All he had to do was sign and show a card to transfer to Berkeley.

“I see this as a time of cheap abundance,” he wrote. “I pity students trapped in a system that was once designed to have essentially free access for all California students with good grades.”

It sounds like a fantasy now, doesn’t it? UC was completely tuition-free until 1970.

opinion columnist

Nicholas Goldberg

Nicholas Goldberg served 11 years as editor of the editorial page and is a former editor of the Op-Ed Page and the Sunday Opinion section.

This month, as the UC system’s 10 campuses — from Davis in the north to San Diego in the south — begin to reopen for the new school year, that’s far from the case. The average cost of tuition for in-state residents alone is $13,104.

This in itself may not be the end of the world financially, especially because UC waives tuition for low-income families. But if you add in the cost of housing, food, transportation, campus fees, and books, pretty soon you’re talking about real money: the estimated cost for an in-state student living on campus is $38,504 for the 2022-23 school year,

It’s no wonder you’ve heard of students finding themselves in debt, or working punitively long hours while completing their schoolwork. Financial aid or not, it’s surprising that some kids can’t afford to attend UC or must stay home or sleep in their cars or can’t afford to eat enough.

a 2020 Report Commissioned by UC Regents found that 39% of undergraduates had “experienced food insecurity” during college and 5% had experienced homelessness. A May survey showed that 60% of Californians Believe that UC education is largely or not entirely affordable.

And although there are many financial aid opportunities for low- and middle-income students, they and their families are often unaware of them.

I was reminded by a letter from Ralph Jones that the twin promises of affordability and accessibility date back to the founding of the University of California. In March 1868, Governor Henry Height signed a charter establishing a state university and declared that, as soon as it became economically viable, “admission and teaching will be free For all residents of the state. ,

The California Master Plan for Higher Education, developed under then-UC President Clark Kerr and published in 1960 by Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, reaffirming a commitment to a tuition-free, widely accessible education.

So what?

One thing that happened was Ronald Reagan, who in his campaign for governor in 1966 strongly supported the idea of ​​charging students for their UC education. He was an outspoken critic of the university, criticizing “a small minority of beatniks, radicals and filthy speech advocates”. who harassed him with his protest march.

Once selected, Reagan immediately fired Kerr. As far as free tuition is concerned, he was not the one to provide it with the will of the government.

“Tuition is not a dirty word,” Reagan told the Los Angeles Breakfast Club in July 1967. “… I think we all understand here that there is no such thing as free public education. The only question is ‘Who pays?’ So far, the taxpayer has borne most of the cost of education in California.”

Three years later, UC added an “educational fee”—$150—to its cost for undergraduates. and with that, it was off to race,

Tuition began to rise and then state support for the university was cut. Between 1995 and 2011, tuition tripled,

In 2011, the total amount UC students paid in tuition for the first time exceeded the amount of university system funding received from the state. Californians who were once willing to pay taxes for good public schools and colleges were weary of the cost, I think.

Despite the tuition increase, the university has, to its credit, done much to make living affordable and accessible. More than 40% of its students go to college as the first in their families, helping to make UC a strong engine of social mobility. More than 70% of students receive grants or scholarships. A substantial portion of tuition revenue is channeled back to financial aid.

today 56% of UC students Do not pay tuition at all. Any household earning less than $80,000 does not pay.

for the 2022-23 school year, many other initiatives Helping to reduce student loans. The state has dramatically expanded the Cal Grant program, which was already the largest such financial aid program in the country. It increased its middle-class scholarship program fivefold for families earning less than $200,000 a year.

Demonstrating how difficult finances can be for its students, UC has established “basic needs centers” on its campuses, which provide students with food pantries, emergency housing, and access to low-cost medical care. .

“Affordability is a real issue, but I think we are doing a lot to fight the problem,” said Rich Leib, the new chairman of the UC Board of Regents. “Sometimes the problem is marketing. Families don’t always realize that we can often come across financial aid packages that make going to college a real possibility for low-income students. ,

One other point about tuition: The extent to which tuition revenue is redirected to pay for financial aid actually serves as a subsidy from wealthy students to low-income students. In that sense, it would be easy to say that teaching lies at the root of the problem of affordability. It’s more like a symbol of it.

I’ve always liked the idea of ​​Kerr’s master plan – a essentially free college education for all Californians. It represents the investment made by the taxpayers in the next generation and future of the state. What Reagan didn’t like is what I loved: the community takes care of itself.

Sadly, we are not going back to the free college. But a commitment to affordability, accessibility, diversity, social mobility and academic excellence should never be allowed to slip out of sight.

@nick_goldberg

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