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Fee Shock: Don't Forget Students : Massive aid needed to avoid caste system

March 21, 1993

The quality of public higher education in California may or may not decline in the years to come, but one thing that's certain not to decline is the cost of higher ed to students and parents.

With no enthusiasm in his voice at all, Cal State Chancellor Barry Munitz laid it on the line last week when he proposed--and trustees approved--substantial new increases for undergraduate and graduate students. If he had the reluctant manner of an official spokesman conveying news of some natural disaster, that's because the fee hikes are so large--for instance, a 36% increase by next fall for undergraduates--that in effect the new fees signal the end of an era. For with the subsequent hike of University of California fees, almost as onerous as the CSU increases, California's two public university systems were moving away from the tradition of low cost and open doors.

That's a tragedy. Among California's better features, along with a climate of innovation and entrepreneurship, has been a public higher education system extraordinary in both quality and price. Largely dependent on state funding, the public higher education system has provided blue-chip education and training at bargain prices. But now, unless there is some miracle overnight rebound in the economy, students and parents had better brace themselves. The economic structure is in convulsion. The education consumer will be asked to bear a goodly portion of the burden that has been borne by the state under the famous master plan.

That change is extraordinarily significant. For the students of the future, that means a need to save more now, even if they are aiming for UC or CSU and not Amherst or USC. The most immediate crunch hits the students of the present. Not all of them can run home to Mom or Dad and scamper out with a check in five minutes. Indeed, some of them may be about to be priced out of the UC/CSU market unless more student aid is forthcoming.

The CSU trustees are promising that a third of next year's fee increase will be earmarked for financial aid. That would amount to about $50 million--a substantial safety net for economically stressed students. Let's hope that in fact happens. More scholarship money will be needed if the new economics of higher education in California is not to turn into California's new caste system. The corporate community as well as alumni groups must do all they can to help. Potentially at risk is a whole segment of the youth population. They must not be allowed to drop through the cracks. They must be helped. It is a moral as well as educational and political imperative.

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