Even in the best of times, few California households can easily afford a 44% increase in their children's college tuition within two years. The proposal to raise University of California undergraduate fees to about $10,300 a year by the fall of 2010 -- including a midyear fee hike in January -- would come as a financial shock to many families and a real hardship for some.
Yet there is no way to avoid at least some tuition increase. The university has made substantial cuts, including work furloughs and layoffs. Maintaining UC's reputation as a top destination for undergraduates, as well as a graduate research and publishing institution, is a good investment for its students and California.
UC attracts brainpower, research dollars and investment capital. It's a big part of why we have Silicon Valley as well as San Diego's biotech industry and a major reason why many high-achieving California students stay here for college. A reduction in academic programs or a loss of respected faculty would cost students more than the admittedly jaw-dropping fee increase proposed by UC President Mark G. Yudof.
That said, UC runs an equal risk of losing prestige if it does not take steps to soften the blow. Yudof has pledged extra financial assistance for needy students, but that excludes much of the middle class, and he concedes that applications from this group already have fallen. At the same time, private colleges and universities are providing more financial aid and merit awards to the brightest middle-class students, substantially narrowing the price gap between themselves and UC while offering the perquisites of private education. UC cannot hold on to its sparkling reputation if these students abandon the public university system.