California Collegians' First Lesson: How to Pay for Soaring Tuition

Article excerpt

CALIFORNIA'S public universities - once the envy of the academic world for their affordability and excellence - are raising fees at a rate that has students studying their bank accounts as much as Boyle's law.

The tuition hikes are triggering a fundamental debate echoed throughout the country over what the role of the state should be in financing higher education.

University administrators, pinched by drops in state aid, throw up their hands and say they have no choice but to institute a double-digit fee increase. But critics charge that the hikes may deprive thousands of getting a college education. Parents, meanwhile, are being forced to do new kitchen-table calculus. And those who will be sitting in the more expensive classes have to live with the consequences.

Under a robin's egg-blue sky, sophomore Aura Orantes pauses after a day at California State University, Northridge. Unless her financial aid goes up, the Chicano studies major says she may have to drop out next year. She already lives at home and rides the bus 90 minutes to school to save money.

"I may have to quit and find a job," she says. "It is getting too expensive."

The sticker shock on California campuses mirrors what has been going on at colleges nationwide. Faced with rising costs and declining state funding - the biggest single source of public university finance - many schools have been firing faculty, eliminating classes, capping enrollments, and raising tuition.

Nor have private colleges, no matter how hefty their endowments, been exempt. Ivy-clad Yale University recently did what other college administrators have avoided like dental work: It became the first to announce that tuition, fees, room and board for one year will top $25,000, starting this fall.

Cutting outlays for higher education is a tempting target for lawmakers trying to close budget gaps. Funding levels for many other state programs are mandated by law. Not higher education. In these lean times, moreover, many politicians believe more of the cost of public college education should be shifted from the state - and thus the taxpayers - to students and their parents.

With the economy showing signs of improvement, though, the pressure on colleges and their politician-patrons may be easing. …