A Free Society Is Not Free: Taxpayer Support and the Imposition of Tuition at the University of California

Jennifer Nations, University of California, San Diego

In this paper I explain why and how California State budgets for public higher education have declined since 1960. The assumption made is that higher education funding has not kept pace with inflation because states faced budgetary crises or university spending was out of control. Both played a role, but what happened is much more complex. First, elected officials, especially Governor Ronald Reagan and other Republicans, sought “government economies” by avoiding new sources of revenue to fully fund budget requests from UC and CSU. Instead, Reagan and his allies sought to fund “educational opportunity” for all students by urging the university systems to charge tuition, something they had avoided since the implementation of the Master Plan in 1960. After California voters rejected a bond measure that would have provided additional capital for the UC and State Colleges, the universities did more to adopt additional fees. Second, the public emphasized funding for tax cuts and for state programs other than the public systems. This is apparent in opinion polls and the 1978 vote on Proposition 13, which drastically reduced California’s property tax revenue base. Third, tax cutting became good politics for Republicans and Democrats in the 1980s, in part because high inflation made allowing voters to keep more of their income a top priority. The Legislature made billions of dollars of tax cuts and Governor Jerry Brown (during his first stint as governor) sought to balance state budget with no new taxes. This led to deep cuts into university finances and subsequent hikes in tuition rates. These trends continued during the next three decades and point to a critical aspect of higher education finance: absent a dedicated revenue stream, and given the professionalization of academic fields, public higher education has never been a sustainable public program.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 242. Interrogating the Intersections between Higher Education and Civil Society