Friday, November 20, 2009

UC Tuition Hikes - Some Perspective

From the Daily Nexus, UC Santa Barbara's student newspaper today:

Council Adopts Tuition Increase

Published Thursday, November 19, 2009

The UC Board of Regents finance committee approved a proposal that will push student fees to over $10,000 next year.

The committee voted almost unanimously to recommend the 32 percent student fee increase to the full board at its meeting yesterday. If passed by the Regents today, California residents’ education and registration fees will be raised in two stages — from $7,788 to $8,373 by Winter Quarter and to $10,302 from summer 2010 through the following academic year. This fee hike will mark the ninth time in seven years that the UC Regents would have approved an increase in undergraduate tuition fees.

I entered UCLA as a freshman in the spring semester of 1963.  As I recall, my tuition and fees that semester came to about $68 and change.  Yes, I was a full time student.  By being in the top 12% of California high school students based on test scores, I got automatic entry to a  first class faculty and very good fellow students on a beautiful campus.  As an extra bonus, we were going to have the national basketball dynasty starting the next year and we even had a Rose Bowl trip. 

I was lucky.  My parents were immigrants.  They really had no idea how the US college system worked, and even if they had, the tuition at private universities was out of the question.  But my local state university happened to be a half hour bike ride from our house and also a first rate school at a very affordable price.

The first year and a half I lived at home.  Then I studied the next year in Germany as part of the UC education abroad program.  The last year and a half I lived on campus.  I was able to pay for my tuition, books, and room and board by working fifteen hours a week as an elementary school playground director.

It wasn't until later when Reagan started cutting the university budget that I began to realize what luxury California had afforded to its top students.  One example was gym.  All gym clothes - shorts, t-shirts, socks and jocks - along with towels were provided.  After each class, you just tossed your dirties into the laundry bag and got a set of cleans.  It was like a country club.  I suspect this was so because originally the wealthy - at least the upper middle class and up - were the people mostly served by this public university.  They expected the best for their children  But once more and more students from other backgrounds became a larger proportion of the student body, and the more privileged began moving to the elite private universities, these  perks began to fall by the wayside and the cost started going up faster and faster. Proposition 13 in 1978 made that decline even faster.

 As I said, when I was getting into UCLA, all I needed to do was be in the top 12% of high school seniors.  Today's admissions are much more complicated.  I went through the online calculator and put in 4.00 GPA and 700's on all the SAT test scores.  That made me eligible in general, but not for any specific campus.  Here's what it said:
Keep in mind that meeting these minimum requirements is not the only way to become eligible for UC (students also may be designated eligible by being in the top 4 percent of their high school's graduating class or by achieving certain exam scores alone). Becoming eligible, however, does not guarantee admission to a particular campus. In selecting students, each UC campus considers a range of factors in a comprehensive review of applicant information. For an explanation of the admissions process, read ... [emphasis added]

From we see UCLA students' reaction to the tuition hike:

A little more perspective.  My 1963 tuition was $68.  The newly set 2010 tuition will hit $10,300. There were semesters when I went to UCLA (quarters started my last year) and quarters now.  I think the $10,304 figure counts fees for the whole year.  If that's correct then  the 2010 tuition will be 75 times higher than the 1963 price. 

My parents bought their house in 1957 for $17,000.  Let's assume it went up to $25,000 by 1963.  Its current price has fluctuated with the housing market, but a similar house up the street with a second floor added on was on the market for $850,000.  That means the my mom's house, which hadn't begun to take off when I started college, went up about 32 times  in the same time period. 

I understand that the President of the University has to make his budget work.  And I'm sure he feels he is being responsible by making this decision.  But  I suspect there are some people who, in that position, would  resign and refuse to be part of this.  Given California's budget woes, the President, would say, he has no choice.  And if he doesn't make the cuts, he would be replaced by someone who would.  But let's step back a bit and put this in context. 

From what I can tell, the University of California received about $3 billion from the State of California in 2008.  I take this from a statement by the UC President Mark G Yudoff:
"That budget proposal, which Regents approved on Nov. 20, asks the state to provide $694 million more than the roughly $3 billion in funding we received this year."
 That's a half billion dollars more than what Californians spend a year on ice cream.*
 And less than a fourth of what they spend on alcohol a year.*

I'm not saying Californians should stop eating ice cream or drinking margaritas, but if they look at all the other discretionary expenses they have, they might find ways to pay for their kids' education without really sacrificing too terribly much. 

I graduated UCLA owing nothing.  I didn't need student loans.  And I could afford to pay my bills working 15 hours a week.  (My mother reads my blog so I better acknowledge that my parents paid the tuition for the first 2 1/2 years, because it was very affordable and they believed strongly in my education.)  It was not only possible for a good student from family without a lot of spare cash to afford UCLA, it was easy. 

How many hours a week do you have to work to pay off $10,000?  The California minimum wage appears to be $8/hour.  Rounding it off to $10/hour to make it easy to figure, that comes to about 19 hours a week for 52 weeks.  And that doesn't count any deductions.  That is if you can find a job in California. 

It seems to me Californians need to rethink their whole way of life.  [Remember, it's 0˚F outside in Anchorage as I write; moving to Alaska is not an option, trust me.  It's cold and miserable and dark and you'll spend all your tuition money on alcohol.]

The New York Times gives another perspective on the decline of the University of California. 

*California has about 36 million people which is about 12% of the total US population of 304 million.  (2008 Census estimate).  Americans spend about $21 billion ice cream a year, so California's share of that would be about $2.5 billion. 
Americans spend about $115.9 billion on alcohol, so California's share would be about $13.8 billion.  That's probably a low estimate because these were 2003 statistics.


  1. Hi, thanks for writing this. My son is in 9th grade and we live near Berkeley. We are already thinking it has to be a UC or nothing - IOW, no pricey private school back east. We can afford this hike, but feel for the kids, like those who man the swimming pools where I swim, who are on work study and for whom $10K is astronomical. The fear for us is how many out of state kids will take those tough spots b/c they can afford $30K and the state needs it. Oh well. Nice article. Glad I found you off IM. Laura

  2. Well written.

    I went to Cal in the early/mid 1980s and don't remember what I paid, but paid for it with:
    *a little help from my parents,
    *8 scholarships thanks to filling out a lot of applications and graduating 2nd in class with 2 foreign languages and honors classes in math/science, English and so on,
    *3 summer internships, and
    *work 15 hrs/week for the middle two years.

    I left school with no debt and 6K in my pocket when oil when from 30 to 15/barrel with a major in Chemical Engineering. So I left that and went into financial services instead, thanks to a cushion of money that I saved.

    What really brought me here to comment was that I'm glad to see them protesting and becoming active like the protests we had back then to divest from Aparthied South Africa. I hope they stay this organized, informed and involved in the elections of 2010 and 2012.

  3. Force the rich to pay something a little bit closer to their fair share in taxes. The state budget cuts easily be avoided if that happened.


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