"My dad told me I should go to college where I wanted to go," said Russell, 19, whose family lives in Silver Spring. "But not only do my parents have to co-sign for most of my loans, they have to watch one of their sons take on immense amount of debt."
* * *
While public universities had little to do with causing the financial crisis, they are suffering its consequences.
To help close a record $60 billion gap in the state budget triggered by the real estate downturn, for instance, California announced $800 million in cuts to the University of California system of 10 schools. In the past two years, a fifth of the system's state funding has vanished. An additional $1.3 billion in reductions is expected next year.
In response, the system's board of regents announced in November the 32 percent increase in tuition, taking effect next year.
After the decision was made, armed police in riot gear had to protect officials from protesters. Students took over classroom buildings at Berkeley, Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, barricading themselves inside. Dozens of students have been arrested. Then, earlier this month, about 70 students and activists surrounded the home of Berkeley's chancellor while he and his family were sleeping, smashing light fixtures and windows and throwing torches at the house.
In Virginia, meanwhile, state funding for four-year colleges has decreased 15 percent. That has meant $19 million less this year at the University of Virginia, which has a $140 million budget. Larger reductions are expected by university officials for the 2010-11 school year.
Exacerbating the deficit are losses in the school's endowment, which declined from $5.1 billion on June 30, 2008, to $3.9 billion six months later as its investments in the market tumbled. The endowment has since recovered by more than $300 million, but officials are lowering their projections of what the fund will return over the next few years.
Administrators say the University of Virginia remains committed to offering financial aid to anyone who needs it, and so far they have avoided layoffs by eliminating vacant positions. But school officials said they have been forced to raise the price of admission significantly. No figure has been set yet for the coming school year.
Tuition costs at U-Va. had already been growing rapidly. A decade ago, the price, excluding room and board, was just over $4,000 for in-state students and nearly $17,000 for out-of-state students per year. Now it's nearly $10,000 and $32,000, respectively.
* * *
Even before the financial crisis intensified the upward pressure on college costs, the price of a degree was soaring. Since 1980, the average cost of tuition and room and board has grown by a staggering 121 percent while median household income has risen a mere 18 percent, according to federal data. But the credit boom earlier this decade provided some relief for families.