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Higher Education in California: Making College Affordable


Tuition and fees are at their highest point ever at California’s public universities. During the recession, both the University of California (UC) and the California State University (CSU) raised tuition to make up for state funding cuts—state General Fund support for UC and CSU dropped by about 20 percent (about $2.2 billion) between 2007 and 2013, even as the number of students continued to increase. Tuition remained flat from 2011 to 2017. However, mandatory campus- based fees went up about 34 percent at CSU and 21 percent at UC during the same period, and both systems have raised tuition for the 2017–18 academic year. Costs have also risen at the state’s private nonprofit colleges, which are much more expensive than the state’s public colleges—undergraduate tuition and fees at private nonprofit colleges averaged just over $37,000 in 2015–16, up from $33,200 in 2012–13.

To counter the effects of these cost increases on lower-income students, the state has increased financial aid. Still, a 2016 PPIC Statewide Survey found that 57 percent of Californians think that affordability in higher education is a big problem. When asked to name the most important issue facing the state’s public colleges and universities, 46 percent mention affordability, cost, or student tuition and fees. This may be partly because many students and families rely on financial aid and loans to help pay for college—especially those who attend private institutions. Because the benefits of a college education are well documented and have major implications for economic growth, equality, and social mobility, the state and higher education officials need to expand ways to help lower-income students earn college degrees without incurring large amounts of debt.

This publication is part of a briefing kit that highlights our state’s most pressing higher education challenges in seven key areas:



We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Sutton Family Fund.

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