Decades of Funding Cuts Have Diminished Access to and Affordability of California’s Public Universities

A new report from the California Budget Project (CBP) shows that state support for the California State University (CSU) and the University of California (UC) has deteriorated over the past generation, endangering what has historically been a key pathway to economic opportunity and upward mobility for Californians.

From State to Student: How State Disinvestment Has Shifted Higher Education Costs to Students and Families shows that even with a growing state population and increased demand for higher education, state funding per student at both of California’s public four-year universities is down significantly compared to the 1980s. As a result, tuition and fees have skyrocketed, with more students and families having to take on student loan debt in order to afford a CSU or UC education.

From State to Student shows that:

  • State support for CSU and UC has not kept up with the significantly increased demand for higher education in California. Since 1980-81, enrollment has increased by more than 50 percent at CSU and by more than 90 percent at UC. Yet during this same period, General Fund support for each institution has declined by nearly 13 percent, after adjusting for inflation.
  • As a result, General Fund spending on a per student basis at both CSU and UC remains near the lowest point in more than 30 years, after adjusting for inflation. General Fund spending per student at both CSU and UC has fallen significantly in the past generation. At CSU, General Fund spending student in 2013-14 is $6,417, down from $11,240 in 1980-81 — a 43 percent drop. At UC, General Fund spending per student has fallen from $24,045 in 1980-81 to $10,879 in 2013-14 — a 55 percent drop. (All of these figures are in 2013-14 dollars.)
  • Tuition and fees have skyrocketed since the early 1990s — more than tripling at CSU and more than quadrupling at UC, after adjusting for inflation. Between 1990-91 and 2013-14, CSU undergraduate tuition and fees for California residents have risen from $1,376 to $5,472, while UC tuition and fees have jumped from $2,865 to $12,192. (All of these figures are in 2013-14 dollars.)
  • A growing share of students are graduating with increasing student loan debt. In 2010, about four in 10 first-year full-time undergraduate students at CSU or UC took out student loans, the largest share in a decade. Furthermore, undergraduates at CSU who took out loans graduated with an average of $17,150 in student loan debt in 2010-11, while UC undergraduates with student loans graduated with an average of about $19,750 in debt in 2011-12 — both well above pre-recession (2006-07) levels, after adjusting for inflation.

The proposed 2014-15 state budget put forth by Governor Brown earlier this year would increase General Fund support for CSU and UC by $142 million each, the third consecutive year of increased funding for both institutions. However, these increases in General Fund support represent only a small step toward reversing the long-term trend of diminished support.

— Steven Bliss