Euphemism as Policy

Through a strange component of the state of California’s education plan, students attending state schools don’t actually pay tuition. They pay “education fees.” That may change soon. According to an article by Larry Gordon in the Los Angeles Times:

The state’s renowned master plan for higher education, which in 1960 established separate roles for the University of California, California State University and the community colleges, also declared that the public institutions “shall be tuition free to all residents.” Since then, even as the amount students pay for their education has soared, campuses here have stubbornly insisted on using the word “fees” for the instructional charges that other states call tuition.

One campus group, UC’s Commission on the Future is trying to change policy such that in-state residents are now billed for tuition, not the euphemistic “education fees.” (Out-of-state students in California public colleges actually do pay tuition.)

What the state calls it is probably not the most important part, however. Tuition, fees, whatever, it’s all just dramatically more expensive than it used to be.

Highlighting that may be the reason for the name change, however. According to commission member Jesse Bernal: “Calling it tuition… signifies that we are steering away from the master plan. This is what the state is forcing us to do. As an institution, we now have tuition.”

While UC President Mark Yudof indicated that he supported calling it tuition (“I always lean toward honesty”) the change will be difficult to implement. Calling the money students pay for their University of California education tuition would require the approval of the UC Regents, the Cal State Board of Trustees, and the state Legislature.

Such a process is not necessary, however, to raise the education fee. Turns out it’s actually pretty easy to do that.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer