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Memories of Powell
What Price Glory?

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What Price Glory?
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A "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.

By James Richardson '75
Illustrations by Laura Levine

When 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 an issue.

I neither 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.

For 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.

California's 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."

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