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The End of the College Subsidy

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The End of the College Subsidy

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BERKELEY, CA - MARCH 04: Students at UC Berkeley block Sather Gate as they demonstrate during a national day of action against funding cuts and tuition increases March 4, 2010 in Berkeley, California. Students across the country are walking out of classes and holding demonstrations against massive tuition increases and funding cuts to college universities. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Higher eduation spending in California has remained flat in California overall -- but only because big increases in tuitition have covered for big cuts in state support for higher education, according to a new report from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office.

The report is full of stark statistics, but what's most striking is how the state has shifted the costs of public higher education -- which in California has traditionally been supported by taxpayers -- away from taxpayers and onto students. This shift has accelerated since the beginning of the Great Recession more than four years ago.

The LAO writes that students now cover more than half of the costs of their education -- up from less than a third four years ago: 

Tuition represents about 57 percent of the UC's average cost to educate an undergraduate. The respective percentages for CSU and CCC are 48 percent and 20 percent. These shares are up from 2007–08, when UC and CSU students were paying less than a third of education cost, and CCC students were paying about a tenth.

How bad is this? LAO argues that California students still get a deal compared to many other states. Undergraduate tuition at the UC ranks in the middle compared to similar institutions, and California State University tuition and California Community College fees remain well below average nationally. (Community college fees are the lowest in the nation).

That doesn't sound so bad. The larger problem is that there's no end in sight to this trend. California's broken budget system all but guarantees future cuts in state support for higher education. And that in turn guarantees more tuition increases. It's a down cycle that's hard to stop.

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