A Brief History of UC Tuition

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

Lauren Marnel Shores
Campus Beat Reporter

Not too many people today remember a time when the University of California was free for California residents to attend. But over five decades ago, those living in-state paid only a small fee to get a UC education.

Today, in-state students pay thousands a year in tuition, and the number will rise. How did the UC get to where it is?


On Dec. 18, both the UC Regents and State Board of Education unanimously vote to “reaffirm the long established principle that state colleges and the University of California shall be tuition free to all residents of the state.” They also resolve to create greater student aid, “particularly as fees and nonresident tuition increase,” in the 1960 California Master Plan for Higher Education.

Calif. Gov. Ronald Reagan fights to
impose tuition at California four year colleges. The state legislature thwarts his efforts, but agrees to increase student registration fees.

Mandatory registration charges for both resident and nonresident undergraduate students stand at $657, while campus based fees stand at $49, according to data published by the
UC Office of the President. With inflation, the mandatory charges would have the same buying power as $2,641.04 today, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Tuition is now imposed upon resident and nonresident undergraduate students at $300 for the academic school year. Students also pay a student services fee at an amount of $419.

Tuition for the academic school year rises to $840 for both resident and nonresident undergraduate students, with a $594 student services fee.

Resident undergraduates now pay $2,896 per school year, while nonresidents get a $3,086 bill. The student services fee has climbed to $713.

Resident tuition stands at $3,121, which is still 26 percent lower than the average cost of in-state tuition among the
top 300 ranked national universities by U.S. News & World Report that year.

Resident tuition zips up to $5,790, while nonresident tuition stands at $6,342, student services fee amount to $786.

The financial crisis of 2007-2008, the worst recession since the Great Depression, hits the United States. The State General Fund for higher education drops from
$12.8 million to $9.4 million, more than 26 percent, over the next five years.

California nearly slashes part of its support to the UC, but Gov. Brown decides against it, in exchange for a six-year tuition freeze, according to the Los Angeles Times.

California higher education
funding is cut by $715.5 million UC-wide, a total of $19,582 per enrolled student.

With tuition at $11,160 — a number that is 16.3 percent higher than the previous school year, and 411 percent higher than a decade before — students pay more for the cost of their own education than the state funds itself for the first time in the history of the UC.

Resident tuition stays still at $11,160, though it’s now nearly 20 percent higher than the average cost of in state tuition within U.S. News’ top 300 ranked national universities of the year.

Nov. 2014
Tuition remains the same from 2011, though it has more than doubled in the ten years before. On Nov. 20, UC Board of Regents authorizes a plan to
increase tuition by 5 percent over the next five years.

UC President Janet Napolitano argues that a tuition freeze is no longer sustainable if the UC is to meet its financial obligation to its employees and increase the number of California undergraduates at UC campuses, the LA Times reports.

But Gov. Jerry Brown states his opposition to tuition hikes and threatens not to release additional state funds to the UC unless the hikes are canceled, according to SFGate. He also places a new two-year freeze in May 2015.

Nov. 2015
Hundreds of UCSB students join the
Million Student March, a protest against the rising tuition costs and student fees, in a time of rampant student debt among college students. Over 100 campuses countrywide, and all nine UC campuses, participate in the march, which originates from presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ call for “a million young people” to “march on Washington.”

April 2016
In a
second installment of the Million Student March, a crowd of 300 UCSB community members demands free tuition, greater financial aid, and a $15 minimum wage on campuses.

Nov. 2016
With the two-year freeze
nearing its end in Fall 2017, UCSB student activists stage a walk-out of classes.

Jan. 2017
A group named Reclaim Higher Public Education launches a website advocating the
$48 Fix, a proposed 12 percent income tax surcharge that would cost the median family only $48 to return to the Master Plan and eliminate tuition entirely in California public higher education.

Two days later, the UC Board of Regents approves a 2.5 percent tuition increase. Now, California residents face $14,409 in tuition and student fees for in-state residents, and nonresidents face tuition and student fees of $42,423 for the 2017-2018 school year.

Tuition is now $11,502. Student service fees are $1,128.

Arturo Samaniego contributed reporting


  1. Note in 2008: The State general funds were cut by $3,454,835,000 which is a 3.4 Billion with a “B”.

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