The California state college system, designed under “the long established principle that state colleges and the University of California shall be tuition free to all residents of the state,” is just not reasonably priced anymore.

The university system boasts that,

The CSU is a leader in high-quality, accessible, student-focused higher education. With 23 campuses, almost 427,000 students, and 44,000 faculty and staff, we are the largest, the most diverse, and one of the most affordable university systems in the country.

But this just isn’t really true. In fact, according to an investigation by Matt Krupnick at the San Jose Mercury News, it would actually be a lot cheaper for a student to go to one of the American colleges historically know as schools for the rich. As Krupnick explains:

Consider a family of four — married parents, a high-school senior and a 14-year-old child — making $130,000 a year. With typical aid, the family should expect to pay nearly $24,000 for a Cal State freshman’s tuition, on-campus room and board, supplies and other expenses. At Harvard? Just $17,000, even though its stated annual tuition is $36,305.

The same family would pay about $33,000 for a freshman year at UC Santa Cruz. UC Berkeley… would cost $19,500.

According to the same article, fewer than a quarter of Princeton students graduate with debt. About 45 percent of students at San Jose State graduate with debt.

Obviously America’s elite colleges have no financial ties to the California higher education system. Princeton is cheap for middle class students because the institution enjoys the generous support of rich alumni. Cal State is expensive because the California system is funded by a stingy and cash-strapped legislature.

But America, and California in particular, has public colleges so that people who don’t have very much money can still have access to high-quality instruction.

And this is what American higher education looks like now. For a student from a middle class family, it’s cheaper to go to Princeton than it is to go to Cal State.

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