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Cost Of California Public Universities Spikes Over Four Decades

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The price of a higher education in California public colleges have seen a tremendous rise since 1979. A new study shows that housing and food expenses are the biggest financial drain on today’s students.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 Going to college is a dream for many people. However, for a growing number of today's students, that cost of college is a financial burden, but that hasn't always been the case. In California, the nonpartisan California budget and Policy Center analyzed college costs to over the last 40 years. Among their findings is that tuition costs for the California State University system saw a more than 1300% increase in annual tuition and fees since 1979 similarly, university of California tuition cost increased six fold and the same time period. Joining me is Amy Rose and analyst for the California budget and Policy Center who took a look at how much college costs today compared to 40 years ago. Amy, welcome. You often hear adults say that they had to work part time while going to college to earn their degree. Your analysis shows it's much more of a financial burden now than 40 years ago. What changed?

Speaker 2: 00:55 Well, a couple of things changed. So the first thing to keep in mind is the rising cost of tuition and fees and that's largely due to state disinvestment. So historically the state paid most of the cost of higher education at California as public institutions. For example, in the early 1980s general fund spending per student at the UC was around $25,000 and today it's down nearly 50% about $13,000 per student. And so in response to these budget cuts, colleges have turned to the students to make up for lost revenues.

Speaker 1: 01:29 Housing is a big expense for many areas of California. Are there plans to provide or financially assist students who go to college?

Speaker 2: 01:37 Yeah. So that's uh, one of the greatest challenges students face in obtaining a college degree. In terms of housing costs, it's important to consider rents relative to income. So when incomes do not keep pace with rising housing costs, housing becomes unaffordable and students are hit especially hard by unaffordable housing costs because their ability to work full time is disrupted by being in class and the financial aid to help them cover living costs has not kept pace with the rising rents.

Speaker 1: 02:04 So we know that housing costs have certainly gone up, but the cost of food has also gone up. Is there anything the state or the universities can do to help shoulder some of that burden?

Speaker 3: 02:16 Yeah, one thing that the universities can do is increase students' access to and awareness of support for food program. So in California we have the CalFresh program, which is our state level version of um, of snap of the food stamp program. Um, and a lot of students aren't aware that this resource is available to them. The application for applying is very confusing. There's a lot of regulations and rules around who can apply. And so by providing colleges with funding to have counselors or support staff on campus to help students navigate that process can really help students make ends meet in terms of having adequate food available.

Speaker 1: 02:57 You know, the, the Funding University of California

Speaker 2: 03:00 and California state schools primarily came from the state, you know, over time, more of that financial costs has shifted over to students. Why is that? That's a great question. This a cost shift from the state to the student. It really undermines California's commitment to ensuring a quality higher education. And we see these decreased funding streams, especially during times of recession. So when the economy is weak, one of the greatest areas hit first is higher education and so in order get into balance us, but it's the university's turned to the students and a number of presidential candidates have proposed making college tuition free. Is that a workable solution you think given the cost of housing? I think one of the issues with free tuition for everyone is that there is an equity aspect missing. So when you are waiving tuition and fees for middle and high income students who can't afford to pay your significantly increasing the cost of that program when we think that age should be targeting the most needy students and you bring up the concept of back in my day a, that's when people bring up their reality from 40 years ago of going to college, paying for it with savings or a part time job and and graduating with little debt.

Speaker 2: 04:14 Is there a generational hurdle that has to be overcome before solution is found? Yeah, I think it's important for legislators especially to understand just how different the situation is today. This whole back in my day narrative suggest that past generations did not struggle to make ends meet and they don't have significant student loan debt. They were able to get by just fine. But when we look at the cost of housing tuition back then, it's reasonable to assume that yeah, many students were able to work their way through college. And when we look at the same data for today's students, it's a much different picture. And so to cope with these increased costs, many students are taking out loans, they're working multiple jobs, they're taking part time classes, they're dropping courses or they're skipping this semester it was all together, which means it's taken them much longer to graduate.

Speaker 2: 04:58 And so what plan should students follow now to ease the burden of paying for college? That's a great question. I think um, financial aid is a great help for low income students. I'm definitely staying in state is one option in state tuition for California students is significantly cheaper than out of state tuition. I think starting at a community college can be a great place for students who struggle to make ends meet because the cost is much less than starting at a UC or CSU. And so what policies can the state developed to help ease college costs for students? Yeah, so the good news is that the situation students are in today are a direct result of policy decisions, which means that choices leaders make today will have a profound effect on the students of tomorrow. And so while the university systems cannot control housing costs and the reason regions and which they're situated, the state has the ability to make policy choices that take us in a different direction. We can invest in higher education by adequately funding our colleges and address the how high housing costs by increasing the production of affordable housing. In the meantime, we can reform how state financial aid is distributed and institutions can improve on campus awareness of an access to available support like the CalFresh program and federal financial aid. Right. I've been speaking with Amy Rose and analyst for the California budget and Policy Center. Amy, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks Jason.

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KPBS Midday Edition

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.