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A Worried Generation of Students : Fee hikes in UC system and elsewhere pose daunting obstacles to many

January 09, 1994

It wasn't so long ago that the biggest worry facing college-bound students was simply getting into their school of choice. Flush with revenue, states like California spent prodigiously on public higher education. Tuition was cheap, ample financial aid was available and class offerings seemed boundless. And all the while, skyrocketing enrollments were being accommodated.

Unfortunately those days are gone--maybe for good. A new generation of college students who had the misfortune to come of age in an era of severe economic limits worries not about which college to attend but whether it can afford to attend any college and whether course schedules will permit graduation within five or six--forget four--years.

Since 1989, fees at California schools have increased by a burdensome 128% and would be hiked again under Gov. Pete Wilson's budget proposal. Compare that to the nation's private colleges and universities, in which tuition rose 127% over a much longer period, 1982 to 1992.

Costs are driving increasing numbers of people away from higher education. Tuition hikes at the state's community colleges, for example, are thought to be responsible, at least in part, for a 9% decline in attendance (another major factor, especially for adult students, is California's struggling economy).

Now administrators are eyeing students attending medical, law and business schools, hoping to charge them $2,000 more than other graduate and undergraduate students.

Questions of fairness aside, what's clear is that today's students face problems their predecessors never had to consider. Those problems may not be getting appropriate attention from university administrators who are pushing for more tuition hikes--or from those who govern the UC system, namely the California Board of Regents. For this reason Ward Connerly, the newly seated regent who pointedly and publicly has said that the UC family consists of more than one "constituency," should be taken seriously by his fellow regents and by the administration of the university.

In flush times the regents could afford to be little more than happy co-administrators of a thriving University of California system. But with that system in crisis, the board must govern more broadly. As Connerly pointed out, the board must now do more than "hire a president and (vote) 'aye' on every issue placed before us by the president." One way to do that would be to worry more about students.

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