Monday, January 18, 2010

What's Wrong with California II: New York Times Magazine Weighs In

Peggy Orenstein, a 21 year resident, reminisces about the way California used to be in this weekend's New York Times Magazine.

I didn’t move to California to become a “Californian.” I usually say that I came for a job; the truth is, I was young and in love and I followed a boy. That was 21 years ago, and much to my surprise, I’m still here. The relationship fizzled, but I was seduced by the romance of the state. I’d become a true believer in the California dream, right as it began to fall apart.

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Source: Public Policy Institute of California, December 2009.

California has always been as much a state of mind as a state of the Union. Other places have sunshine. Other places have beaches. Other places even have decent organic produce, or so they say. But California promises something more: transformation. The state is the repository of America’s frontier spirit, the notion that a better life is possible for anyone who wants it, regardless of the circumstances of her birth. You can leave your past at the border and reinvent yourself here — whether as a film director, a high-tech entrepreneur, a Pilates instructor or simply a person who deserves a second chance (though, admittedly, the same mentality has been responsible for an overabundance of cults, serial killers and idiosyncratic drivers).

Nothing is more integral to that aura of possibility than the Golden State’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education, which guaranteed that residents could attend college virtually free. The top 12.5 percent of high-school graduates were funneled into the University of California system, which included the finest public institutions in the world. The top third were eligible for California State campuses. And for anyone who was “capable of profiting from the instruction offered,” the doors of community colleges were wide open. Free! Imagine the chutzpah, the pie-in-the-sky optimism of such a plan! Class and race would no longer be an obstacle to mobility: this state would be a model of diversity, fluidity — a true melting pot.

I’m now married to a beneficiary of that vision. My husband, Steven, a native Angeleno, is the son of a factory worker and a supermarket checkout clerk — Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II and did not themselves attend college. Four years at a grand total of about $4,000 (including rent and ramen) changed his life: it didn’t ensure his success, but it provided the opportunity for it.

Flash-forward three decades. The state’s budget crisis led to cuts of $800 million from the U.C. system in 2009; $500 million from C.S.U.; and $700 million from community colleges. In December, the state regents increased U.C. student fees by 32 percent. That means, once you factor in books, room and board, that a year at Berkeley, the system’s flagship school, will top $30,000 next fall — hardly most people’s idea of gratis.

read the rest of the article here

I too, have benefited from the UC school system. The affordable tuition of around $5500 a year was one of the major reasons I choose to attend UCLA (that and I was winter wait-listed at Berkley). Community colleges were all but free, just a couple of dollars per unit. Back then, the high taxes we paid got us something--some of us might not have wanted what our taxes bought us, but at least it was something. Nowadays, I scratch my head and wonder what exactly we are paying for. Our taxes are higher than ever, but it seems we're getting less and less benefit in return. Ms. Orenstein doesn't point the finger at anyone (surprise, surprise) but I will. Government employees and their predatory unions have stolen the Californian Dream from all of us. Lest we do something soon, Ms. Orenstein's last words in her article will become reality.

The California dream is dead. Long live the California dream

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