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Memories of Powell
What Price Glory?

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What Price Glory?
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Wilson's proposal is headed for the Legislature, where it faces an uncertain future. There is currently some talk among lawmakers of recommending a fee decrease in the opening gambit of the budget game.

However the issue is resolved this time around, the governor's compact itself -- on which the wrangling is predicted -- leaves some feeling uneasy. Jess Bravin, a Boalt Hall law student who is the student representative on the Board of Regents, points out that the agreement with Wilson is of recent origin and temporary duration. "We speak of the ‘compact' like we're talking about the Mayflower Compact," says Bravin. "The most important compact is the one made between the state of California and California families in 1868, when UC was established. In 1992 or so we decided to pass on to families the cost of instruction. But this is a very significant violation of a much earlier and more important compact." For both ideological and economic reasons, some education experts are beginning to argue that UC and CSU should lower their fees. "The fees shouldn't be kept up," says William Pickens, a private-education consultant and a former budget officer from CSU who is respected in the Legislature. "They're a narcotic -- a very bad narcotic." Pickens maintains that access to college for the poor and middle class would be improved by lowering fees. "Low tuition," he says, "provides a clear message to all high school students and their parents: If you prepare yourself for college, financial cost will not stand in your way."

The ongoing debate over student fees only hints at the larger economic challenges facing the UC system, and all of higher education in California, in the years to come. A huge new generation of college students will descend on the universities and colleges in the next decade in what many are calling "Tidal Wave II." That the students are coming is certain: They are in the elementary and secondary schools now. But the inundation will come at a time when budget experts predict there will be no funds left for higher education because the prisons, welfare, Medi-Cal and K-12 education will have sapped the entire state budget.

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