Monday, June 18, 2012




The more foreign and out-of-state students register at the University of California and the higher tuition and fees there are pushed, the more legitimate it becomes for taxpayers who built and still largely fund the ten-campus system to wonder who it will belong to in the future.

It's a question that got new force early this month, when UCLA officials voted to take their graduate school of business private, depending solely on a variety of grants, plus student tuition and fees.

No one knows, then, if the UC system will remain, as it has been for more than 70 years, the single biggest incubator for upward mobility of young Americans or if it will become a playground for the rich, both from California and other places.

          But all indications at this moment are that UC campuses are gradually coming to cater more and more to the wealthy.

          It's all because of money: The state doesn’t have as much as it needs to fund many basic services that have come to be expected of it, from parks to elementary and high school education to caring for the disabled elderly who have paid taxes all their lives and expected a bit of a safety net in their twilight years.

One result has been a steady reduction over the last decade in state support of UC, California State University and community college campuses. One result: major increases in tuition and fees have hit all those campuses. UC tuition is just about triple what it was 10 years ago, after increases of as much as 20 percent in some single years. To put things in terms of non-inflated money, in 1980, the value of a typical California home would buy over 200 years of UC education. In 2011, it bought only approximately 30 years. So tuition, amazingly, has risen even faster than housing costs.

          Another result of the funding cuts has been a decrease in the number of students transferring to UC schools from community colleges – always a good measure of future upward mobility – and a parallel increase in admission applications from other states and countries. Applications from out-of-staters don’t usually arrive spontaneously; they tend to result from outreach efforts.

          Nearly 1,800 fewer students this spring sought to transfer into UC from junior colleges than just a year ago, even as UC freshman applications rose 19 percent from last year’s levels. One reason: budget cuts at the state’s 112 community colleges make it ever more difficult for students there to complete the classwork needed for a transfer to UC. So many either had to delay or revise their plans. No one is quite certain, but it’s possible that a combination of the slow economy and higher fees at junior colleges also cut into students’ academic progress.

          At the same time, out-of-state and foreign applications to UC rose from about 21,000 last year to more than 33,000 – an upswing of more than 50 percent in just one year.

          With half a billion dollars less state support coming to the university system this year than last – and more cuts on the way if voters nix the taxes proposed this fall – it’s no wonder administrators are reaching out to non-Californians, whose tuition runs about $23,000 higher than even the increased amounts charged to state residents.

          Anyone who says UC administrators aren’t panting after that money can only be naïve. It would also be naïve to think that the flood of new non-resident applications won’t decrease the spots available to top-performing California high school graduates, who are supposedly guaranteed spots in the system if they meet standards. The fact is that more and more highly-capable in-state students are being pushed off UC campuses.

          All of which testifies to an informal but real departure from the 1959 California Master Plan for Higher Education, which spelled out specific missions for UC, Cal State and community colleges. It virtually guaranteed a UC slot to anyone in the top one-eighth of high school graduates. And it promised community college classes to anyone who might benefit from them. Nothing there about money.

          Neither one of those standards is now being met.

          Maybe it would be unrealistic to expect the universities and colleges to continue adhering to their spelled-out missions and tasks in a cash-short era. But they are not serving Californians well when they change their missions as greatly as they have without first conducting a major public debate about their future. If they’re going to change their entire gestalt, they at least ought to go back to the Legislature, since that’s who passed the original master plan.

          And if UC wants to belong increasingly to the rich and the foreign, as the current shift indicates, California taxpayers should have the option of doing something about it. Alternatives could vary from funneling more money to the campuses and strictly limiting out-of-state admissions to cutting UC off state aid altogether and letting it accept the highest bidders.

     Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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