The Crisis of College Costs in California

A disheartening crisis has hit California concerning the constant increase in the cost of college. In today’s day and age, students from California graduate with more than an average of $20,000 in debt. Studies show that many of these students struggle to feed or even provide shelter for themselves because of the debt they face. 

The UC charter of 1868 states, “as soon as the income of the University shall permit, admission and tuition shall be free to all residents of the state.” The idea of free college is dated back decades and the idea has still not been officially introduced to California. Instead, tuition expenses have only increased.

In 1960, students paid a $60 fee per semester for University of California schools. However, in the late 1960s, politicians began pushing for the state to increase the price of higher education.

Between 1977 and 2018, the undergraduate fees of the UC colleges increased five times the rate of inflation. During that time period, the fees would raise immensely year by year. The largest increase in one year was 32 percent.

Over the past four decades, the tuition for attending a California State University (CSU) has increased by 900 percent. 

After the 2008 financial crisis, university departments had to cut costs to compensate. Students were taught in larger classes to avoid the cost of hiring more faculty, maintenance was postponed, and students started to pay more. 

The average tuition for private universities has also more than doubled over the last two decades. There are only a few exceptions where smaller private colleges have slashed their prices to prevent closure. An example is the Mills College in Oakland, which cut its tuition price from $44,000 to $28,000. 

Housing costs have only added to this crisis. Adding the cost of room and board onto tuition raises the cost of college by more than double. For example, UC tuition is currently just under $15,000, but once you add the costs of room and board, the price increases to over $30,000. 

Due to the more diverse college community of this decade, there are more students coming from low-income families as well as students who are the first in their family to attend college. A shocking statistic shows that more than one-third of California college students are over the age of 25. This diversity may seem great, but it provides a large challenge for financial aid planners.

There is a large food and shelter crisis among students, with nearly half of all college students being food insecure—meaning that they do not have reliable access to food and there is a record high of 19 percent of community college students being homeless.

While working can help cover the costs of college, it can also delay graduation. Currently, only one in four CSU students graduate in four years, and only three in five graduate within six years. Furthermore, less than half of community college students graduate from a university within six years. 

The data regarding student loans in California is astonishing:

  • there are over 3.5 million people with student loan debt
  • Californians have a total of $141.9 billion in outstanding loan debt
  • there’s an average of $37,000 in student debt per borrowers
  • there has been a 119% student loan increase since 2008
  • $7.9 billion increase in debt in the last 12 months
  • 317,000 older Americans who still are paying off student loan debt
  • one in three millennials have student loan debt

While the solutions to the increasingly salient issue of college costs aren’t obvious, the severity of the problem simply can’t be ignored.


Photo by Alexander Mils