POSTED INHIGHER EDUCATION The mystifying costs of college in California, explained


Mikhail Zinshteyn
April 3, 2024
University tuition is free! No, wait, the full cost of college is tens of thousands of dollars annually. Hold up. There’s enough financial aid to bring down the price tag to just a few thousand dollars a year — tuition, food and housing included.
All of those statements are true, depending on where you attend and how much you or the parents who claim you on their taxes earn. For something as consequential — and at times more costly than a small condo — as affording a degree, understanding how much a family must shell out for a better shot at higher wages can be complicated.
This guide is meant to explain the basic truth about affording college: For almost everyone who attends, they don’t pay the published price.
Most Californians attending public universities — and the vast majority of students in the state attend public, not private, schools  — don’t pay tuition because of state and university grants for lower-income students.
And so the story of affordability in California isn’t immediately intuitive: After recession-era cuts, the state has recently started to spend big on higher education. Tuition at the University of California and California State University used to be non-existent; now it’s a major source of university revenue. Housing is often a larger expense than tuition. But financial aid can turn a sticker price of $30,000 into $5,000, depending on the school and a student’s family income.