Calif. students carry burden of tuition hikes

There was very bad news for college students this week. The College Board reported that tuition and fees at public four-year colleges now average $8,244 a year, up 8.3 percent from last year. As CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reports, students in California are getting a particularly tough lesson in college economics.

Connie Castelan's biggest fear is debt. By day, she works a full-time job so at night she can afford to go to college without massive loans.

"It is just an incredible weight on my shoulders," she said, "that I just thought 'I couldn't handle it.'"

When her tuition at California State Northridge, a public school, hit $8,000 this fall, she had to drop out and enroll at a community college. She now pays $1,000.

"Honestly when I see tuition go up, fees go up, even books went up," said Castelan, "it just shows that the government or the legislators don't really care about students."

On average, tuition and fees at California's four-year public universities are up a whopping 21 percent this year. Why? California's ongoing budget crunch is squeezing higher education hard.

The crushing impact of student debt

In the past four years, state lawmakers have cut more than $1.5 billion from the state's four-year universities. In 2010, California spent more on prisons ($9.6 billion) than higher education ($5.7 billion).

"I think the priorities are all upside down," said Mark Yudof, president of the UC system. "California has been dis-investing from higher education. We're spending a lot more on prisons than we spend on universities -- apparently we're more devoted to them than to our young people."

So the young people pay more. At UCLA, once considered a low-cost option, tuition and fees now top $12,000 -- nearly double what it was just five years ago.

Of course most students don't pay that much -- financial aid covers part of the bill. But as tuition keeps going up and more students need aid, there's less of it to go around.

Joelle Gamble uses photocopied books to cut costs. The tuition hike at UCLA this fall almost forced her to drop out.

"'Oh, 'just pay more, pay more,'" she said, "but the reason why some of us are here is because we can't pay more and this was an affordable high-quality option for us."

These students will likely be paying even more. The state may cut another $100 million next year.