Why Does UC Cost So @#%% Much? Or…Does It?

Back in the day, when I enrolled in the UCs, tuition was cheap! It even seemed cheap at the time. I paid my own way b/c I worked part-time during the school year and during the summer. I could pay my own way working part-time. As we all know, those days are long gone. Not considering room & board, just to pay a UC $14,000 tuition tab now, a student, working a minimum wage job, would have to work over 1500 hours annually. The national standard for full-time jobs? 2,087 hours a year.

UC Tuition in 1976 v 2015

How did this come to pass? Tuition used to be free at the UC! In the 1970s, when the State began requiring students to pay tuition (they didn't call it 'tuition'; they called it 'educational fees'), the UCs charged about $630/year. Does inflation alone account for the roughly $14,000 tab in 2017? Nope. 

Click here to see a chart of the fee increases at the UCs over time.

If students only had to account for inflation, the 1976 tuition of $630/year would be just $2665 in 2015.  As the UC marketing team and education pundits will tell you, students enrolled in the 1970s and even those enrolled in the 1990s benefited tremendously from State of California support of the UCs. We alums were heavily subsidized.  Click here to see a graph that shows who paid for the cost of a UC education over the past 20 years or so. Bottom line: the student is now paying what the State (read: taxpayers) used to pay.

Yes, students at the UCs are paying more. Is it more than their fair share compared to other colleges? Yale, for example, getting little direct government funding (yes, their tax benefits are subsidies, too), has always been expensive compared to the UCs.  In 1976, Yale charged $4400 tuition (8 times the UC price at the time). Yale tuition in 2016 ($49,480) also exceeds what standard inflationary pressures would suggest it should be. Tuition at Yale is now about 3 times that of the UCs. Food for thought: non-resident tuition at UC is only about $10,000 less compared to Yale. Put another way, attending UC is essentially just as expensive as Yale is for international and out-of-state students! Hence... the very public fight over UC administrators admitting more non-residents to shore up the budget.

Where does all the UC tuition money go anyway?

Click here for a pie chart showing UC expenses by category. 

Clearly, employee salary and benefits comprise the bulk of the expenses. But, before anyone shouts about those exorbitant Professor Salaries, check out the very transparent and publicly posted salaries on this website: Wages of the Employees of UC.  On this website, you can search for "Professor" at each of the 9 UCs and see just how many professors are paid more than $70,000 (spoiler alert, few are: 5/93 at UCD). If you search for "Coach", the salary range is definitely provocative and rather extreme: $1,000 - $2.3 Million at UCLA, for example. (Go Bruins?)

If you've read this far (Thanks!) and are looking for an answer to the sorry state-of-affairs of college tuition vis a vis your family's budget, I have a few tips:

  1. Apply where you land above the 75th percentile and you'll probably get some merit aid.
  2. Enroll in AP classes in high school to shave off time spent in college.
  3. Attend a Community College for the first two years to save big money.  

If at all possible, just say 'No!' to debt which will only increase the total amount paid. No matter which college you attend, study hard and make the most of it each and every day! A bachelor's degree still shows a positive ROI.