It’s not your grandparents’ — or even your parents’ — higher-ed system. A young Californian of the baby boomer generation, bolstered by the postwar economic boom and the state’s investment in public higher education, could often emerge from college with little to no debt and a clear path to a living wage and homeownership.

Today’s California students, by contrast, graduate with an average of more than $20,000 in student debt. California offers more generous financial aid than most other states, but gone are the days of taking free college for granted. Studies show many students struggle even to afford food and housing.

How exactly did college costs get so high, and what are policymakers proposing we do about it? Read on.

This explainer and other higher education coverage are supported by the College Futures Foundation. is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.