By Gerald Haslam | Special to CalMatters
Back in 1961, when my wife and I matriculated into the California State University system as blue-collar newlyweds, fees were low enough that by both of us holding jobs and renting low-end digs—as well as by varying our course-loads between full- and part-time—we were able to earn multiple degrees without accumulating a mountain of debt.
We also had two babies during that time.
Eventually we became educators, so there was a measure of payback to California for the opportunity offered us.
Now, as our grandchildren reach college age, we realize that the great California State University educational bargain may be no more, since tuition alone costs $7,300 annually at state universities, and $14,000 at the University of California. That, of course, doesn’t count dorms or books or even parking.
Higher education is constantly evolving, especially public higher education. During the 1960s and ‘70s, we saw an ebb and flow of student, faculty and administrative power; that process continues.
By the late 1960s, I was teaching at a state university, and surprised to see luxury condo’s that might seem at home on Maui replace the refurbished World-War II barracks in which my wife and I had lived on campus. Rent and tuition had surged much higher, too.
Count me among those advocating free California State University tuition for California residents, as well as a 100% forgivable student loan program for those who remain in the state after graduation.
It would be a brave investment in California’s future, but CSU and the community colleges have long been a bootstraps institutions. Over the 40-plus years I was involved in higher education here, I’ve seen politics vacillate and complexions change, but not the need or the accomplishment or (occasionally) the genius of students. I’ve also seen student debt grow to absurd levels.
Trained minds remain our greatest treasure.
The student population is dynamic.
“There are more women now, more people of color, and likely more first-in-their-family college students,” reports Sonoma State professor emeritus J.J. Wilson.
In total, about 4% of CSU students are African American, but 16% are of Asian extraction, 23% are White, and a whopping 42% are Latinos. Closed borders or not, that trend is not apt to change, and richly diverse California needs trained minds, no matter what their ethnicities are.
Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton, a San Jose State graduate, has aptly pointed out:
“The state universities have always performed the essential role of lifting up the children of lower and middle socioeconomic groups to a higher level. Meanwhile, they’ve provided an educated workforce for an expanding California economy.”
Author Gerald Haslam, his wife and three of their children are CSU graduates. He taught at Sonoma State University, email@example.com. He wrote this commentary for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.
The author wrote this for CALmatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.