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University Degree Costs In California Are Falling — For The University

A campus map at San Diego State University, Sept. 24, 2016.
A campus map at San Diego State University, Sept. 24, 2016.

The cost of a college degree may be going up for California students. But a study by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) said the amount of money spent on each degree by the University of California and California State University systems has been going down, when adjusted for inflation.


Think of a university as a factory, and the widgets it manufactures are college degrees. In the 26 years leading up to 2013, the average cost of producing those widgets, or degrees, for UC and CSU, has gone down 17 percent, when adjusted for inflation.

The institutional cost of a degree just at CSU has gone down even more dramatically: 33 percent between 1987 and 2013.

This increased cost-efficiency could be due to many factors, said Kevin Cook, the lead researcher on the PPIC report. He said it is not clear how many of those factors were in play during the studied period. For example, degrees rooted in science and technology are more expensive for the university than humanities degrees.

One factor that was in play that lowered the cost of a degree for both UC and CSU was rising graduation rates. When the number of degrees increases, the price per degree goes down. Also, at CSU, the time spent getting a degree decreased, with many more students finishing in four years.

So why is the student cost of those degrees — college tuition — not also going down? The main reason tuition has been climbing at California's public universities, Cook said, is that students are paying a bigger share of the education costs, while the state is paying less.