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Californians Favor Higher Taxes over Higher Tuition

Lunna Lopes January 26, 2017

After six years without tuition increases, California’s public universities are considering proposals to modestly raise tuition for California residents. The University of California (UC) has proposed increasing systemwide tuition and fees for undergraduates by $336 to a total of $12,630 for the academic year. The California State University (CSU) has proposed increasing in-state student undergraduate tuition by $270 to a total of $5,742 for full-time students. Campuses at each system charge additional fees, which currently average about $1,200 at UC and $1,400 at CSU.

A recent PPIC Statewide Survey on Californians and higher education indicates that these proposals are likely to be unpopular with the public. The survey found that Californians are concerned about the cost of college: 57% said that the overall affordability of California’s public colleges and universities is a big problem. Only 23% of Californians would be willing to increase student fees in order to increase funding for California’s public higher education system.

This is not the first time Californians have voiced disapproval of tuition increases. Before UC and CSU raised tuition in 2011, PPIC’s 2010 higher education survey found that only 35% of Californians favored increasing student fees as a way to maintain higher education funding levels in the face of state budget cuts. In 2011, our survey found that 65% of Californians were very concerned about increasing student tuition and fees as a way to deal with decreased funding.

Today, when many policy preferences are often divided along party lines, there is partisan consensus on this issue: at least 70% of Californians across parties say they would be unwilling to increase student fees to fund higher education. Indeed, less than a third of Californians across all regions and demographic groups say they would be willing to increase student fees.

At the same time, a majority of Californians (67%) believe that the current level of state funding for public colleges and universities is inadequate. So what are Californians willing to do to increase funding for public higher education? Overall, they are twice as likely to say they are willing to pay higher taxes as to say they are willing to increase student fees (48% to 23%). However, and perhaps unsurprisingly, we see notable partisan differences when it comes to willingness to pay higher taxes. While 68% of Democrats say they would be willing to pay higher taxes to increase funding for public colleges and universities, only 20% of Republicans say the same.

Another way to increase funding for California’s public colleges and universities would be to admit more out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition. Californians are somewhat divided on this issue, with half saying they would not be willing to admit more out-of-state students, while 46% say they would be willing to do so. However, only 21% of Californians support admitting more out-of-state students if this would mean admitting fewer in-state students. This view holds across party lines: only one in four Republicans (25%), and even fewer independents (21%) and Democrats (16%), are willing to admit more out-of-state students if this would mean admitting fewer in-state students. UC has proposed increasing systemwide out-of-state tuition and fees by over $1,600 to almost $40,000.

Our survey findings suggest that the proposed UC and CSU tuition and fee increases may be unpopular among Californians of all political persuasions—and that Californians’ reluctance to increase the financial burden on the state’s students may be driven by concerns about access and affordability.

Learn more

Read the PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians and Higher Education
Find out more about the PPIC Statewide Survey
Visit the PPIC Higher Education Center

News and analysis of California policy issues from PPIC

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