What Price Glory?
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"Free" UC Education costs a lot more today than five years
ago. Ensuring affordable access to all qualified students is a complicated
– and expensive – bit of business.
James Richardson '75
Illustrations by Laura Levine
I went to UCLA in the early 1970s, my father wrote a check for $212
each quarter for my student fees. I lived in an apartment that rented
for $90 a month, which I split with a roommate. We survived on Ragu
spaghetti sauce. That I would finish school in four years was not
had to work during the school year nor did my parents have to borrow
money to pay my way. Summer jobs in a can factory back in Kansas
provided me with all the extra cash I needed for the next school
year. While my college education was not free, the cost was not
particularly burdensome for a middle-class family living, as could
be done in those days, on a sole breadwinner's wages.
decades, however, Californians had enjoyed the promise of a free
education from kindergarten through college. And it was a truly
extraordinary promise. In the early 1940s, both of my parents went
to UC Berkeley, then the nation's finest public university. They
paid only books and board. Nothing like a UC education, in Berkeley,
Los Angeles and across the entire system as it expanded up and down
the state, was offered anywhere else in the United States.
modern blueprint for its colleges and universities, the Master Plan
for Higher Education, enacted in 1960 and still in force, pledges
as a matter of public policy a tuition-free education to all who
are qualified. But over the past three decades, California's commitment
to its future has steadily eroded as "student fees" have first crept,
then shot, upward. "A free education was absolutely one of the pillars
of the Master Plan," observes Warren Fox, executive director of
the California Postsecondary Education Commission, which regulates
higher education in California and is the steward of the plan. "And
we've lost it."