Capitol Alert

College affordability a festering problem in California, poll finds

Students protest tuition hikes at a University of California board of regents meeting in San Francisco on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. Faced with record high enrollment and the need to hire faculty, the University of California and California State University systems are considering raising tuition for the first time in six years.
Students protest tuition hikes at a University of California board of regents meeting in San Francisco on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. Faced with record high enrollment and the need to hire faculty, the University of California and California State University systems are considering raising tuition for the first time in six years. The Associated Press

With tuition hikes being discussed for California’s public universities, a new poll shows a strong majority of residents identifying college affordability as a big problem, including at least half of adults across wide partisan, income, and age groups.

The survey, released by the Public Policy Institute of California late Thursday, asked respondents to name the most important issue facing public colleges and universities – and 46 percent mentioned the costs, affordability, or student tuition and fees.

Other issues received mentions from less than 10 percent of adults.

With the curtain set to rise on the state’s budget negotiations, University of California and California State University officials have discussed the possibility of raising student tuition for the first time in six years amid record enrollment and the need to hire faculty. Earlier this year, both institutions weighed potentially adopting smaller annual fee hikes tied to inflation, an approach long recommended by the state’s nonpartisan fiscal analyst.

While nearly 7 out of 10 poll respondents reported that funding for colleges is inadequate, just 13 percent said they thought increased funding from the state government alone would dramatically improve the higher-education system. Forty-two percent of those who attended a community college or a CSU campus said existing funds need to be spent more wisely, compared with 22 percent of those who attended UC.

UC and CSU had doubled their average tuition and mandatory fees over the last decade, and more than tripled them since the 2000-01 academic year.

The poll identified cost as a clear barrier, with 72 percent agreeing that the price keeps students who are qualified and motivated from going to college. Nearly 8 in 10 respondents said they believe students have to borrow too much money to pay for higher education. On top of tuition and fees, many students shell out big money for books and living expenses.

Money aside, they also worried about getting accepted into UC campuses.

More than 75 percent are concerned (with 38 percent very concerned) about the difficulty high school students face in gaining admission to a UC school, with African Americans far more likely than other racial and ethnic groups to express that feeling.

Despite having concerns about affordability, most Californians held each branch of the higher education system in high esteem. California Community Colleges were rated by 15 percent as excellent, 51 percent good; UC received 14 percent excellent, 51 percent good; and CSU got 10 percent excellent, 56 percent good.

The poll also asked about infrastructure a month after voters approved the Proposition 51 school construction bond for K–12 and community colleges. Sixty-five percent of adults and 60 percent of likely voters reported that they would approve a similar measure for UC and CSU.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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