In 1960 the California legislature essentially approved then Gov. Pat Brown's Master Plan for higher education, which included the tenet that a world class education should be accessible for all California children who show promise.
The University of California system has lived up to its calling as a destination for top-flight students, but accessibility has nearly disappeared, denying Brown's legacy for the millennial generation.
The University of California Board of Regents today put another nail in the coffin of accessibility by voting 13-7 to increase tuition, if necessary, but 5 percent a year through the school year 2019-20.
Gov. Jerry Brown, who voted no, is opposed to an increase and says it would violate a deal to freeze tuition if the state increased funding, which it has, by nearly five percent.
While Brown said the system hasn't done enough to live up to a promise to cut costs, UC leaders said the state hasn't come through with enough funding for the schools. UC President Janet Napolitano said the system faced “massive state disinvestment,” which is true.
She says state funding for the system is the lowest it has been in 30 years.
Indeed, the cash we invest in higher education as a proportion of the state budget has decreased over the years, and the University of California has had to rely on students, their parents, loans, grants and scholarships to make up the difference.
That wasn't Pat Brown's promise.
The problem is that the system has become just another elite institution for rich kids just as Californians dig out of the financial nightmare of the Great Recession and just as Latinos this year took over as the largest racial/ethnic group in the state.
Wherever Latinos go to school, it seems, disinvestment follows. The expectation to integrate and bootstrap oneself into the middle class, however, remains.
Eunice Gonzalez-Sierra of the Latino student group MEChA says that if today's proposal is put into motion (the vote would still allow the state to backstop the increases with extra funding), it could end up representing a 400 percent increase over 2003 tuition.
“A lot of students coming from low-income backgrounds won't have the means to access education,” says the fourth-year UCLA student from Santa Maria. “They say UC is quality, affordable and accessible education. It's neither affordable nor accessible.”
Even today it costs an estimated $33,360 for tuition, room and board at UCLA — a price that has already enraged those who are, quixotically, hanging on to Pat Brown's vision of higher education for all.
The per capita individual income in Los Angeles county is $27,900. You do the math.
As we've noted before, tuition costs are already triple what they were a generation ago. Few other costs have tripled in that time.
Gonzalez-Sierra says “diversity will decrease. There's already too few people of color on campus.” She calls UCLA a “privileged university.”
UCLA officials note that a majority of its students receive financial aid, which speaks to the economic diversity of the campus.
But it's still daunting to realize that the cost of sending your kid to UCLA costs more than most people earn in Los Angeles. It turns the UC system into a subsidized benefit for the rich, at least on paper.
And while the state recently pledged nearly $1.6 billion of your tax dollars to the entertainment moguls of Hollywood, California's students get to pay more for a so-called public education.
“Parents who are already working rigorous, labor-intensive jobs will have to deal with not affording higher education,” Gonzalez-Sierra told us. “They want to provide opportunities for their children. It's important.”