Alma Mater Blue

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I grew up in the East Bay in the late '80s and early '90s, surrounded by an older generation of Cal graduates. Amid reminiscence of education and political action at UC Berkeley decades earlier, the older generation would gather regularly to reinforce their enthusiasm for the school through alumni activities and football parties. For them, the university experience was uplifting, empowering and a reminder of the state's dedication to its promise of quality higher education for all.

But as a current graduate student in the UC system, I know that my generation's experience is very different.

As of late, the notion of what it means to be eligible for enrollment at UC seem to have changed. Previously, everyone in the state was entitled to a low-cost, high quality, heavily state-subsidized education, provided they met the academic prerequisites. But now, tuition and fee increases have added the prerequisite of financial backing. Students must be able to pay higher and higher prices for their public education, either by paying large sums up front or accepting loans with astronomical interest rates that mean even larger debts to pay off in the future. As the cost of public higher education in California increases for students, it is becoming harder to distinguish UC from its private counterparts.

The consequences of this trend should trouble those responsible for UC's future. The school relies on contributions from alumni to pay for various programs. At this point, those contributions are coming from the older generation of grateful alumni. But like so many of my peers, I feel increasingly distant from UC. We talk often about how mounting costs translate to fewer classes, fewer student services and looming questions about the quality of education we receive.

I worry that this growing resentment in my generation will result in lower alumni giving in the future. The school is turning to current students to bear the burden of the last two decades of financial stress in the UC system. By solving the problem this way, however, UC risks creating a resentful and debt-laden alumni and continued budget deficits in the future.


With a Perspective, I'm Jim Scott.