The University of California Board of Regents have voted to implement a 32% increase in students fees and tuition in a two-stage process beginning in January 2010 and blooming to full financial fruition in the fall. This is making the students very unhappy, as you would imagine, and some of them went on an old-style protest, locking themselves in campus buildings and blocking traffics and such. More than a hundred people have been arrested, and the police have been using pepper spray, tasers, and whacking sticks on a few of the rowdier youth, or those who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet, I am guessing this is going to end up having little impact for all the current drama, which would kind of bum me out if I were a protester who missed showering for three days and then got a snootful of capsaicin.

Everyone can agree that 32% more is a pretty substantial grab into the wallet. But the bottom line is that public sympathy will be pretty minimal. Here’s why:

1. California doesn’t have any more money. For whatever tax collecting and structuring issues there are and university salary or program cuts that should be made, right now there’s no other immediate way to get more cash into the university system other than via its consumers. As we are seeing with the worldwide economic mess, too much wrong was left unaddressed for too long, and now there is a cost. No system is immune. Welcome to capitalism, kids, here’s your first economics class.

2. As it has always been, college education is an optional event and a privilege in the United States. No one is guaranteed higher education, and most people must make substantial sacrifices to be able to attend. If you cannot or will not pay the price to go to college, you don’t go. Do I think that’s smart for the ol’ U.S. of A.? Nope. A better-educated workforce is what is desperately needed in these times. But that’s not how it is. You pay to play, and you pay what they say, or you go a different way. Hey hey hey.

3. With millions of people out of work, millions more living from paycheck to paycheck, foreclosures, lack of basic health care, and a very expensive war going on, no one is going to cry too hard about California college tuition going from $7212 to $10,302. And notably, students with household incomes under $70K a year will not be assessed the additional fees at all.

4. This ain’t 1968, and these protests aren’t about civil rights, the draft, free speech, police brutality, or the corruption of government. It’s about money. Not quite as soul-stirring, eh?

It’s very unfortunate, all of it. College student loans crack the backs of many who struggle to pay them back over years and years. Higher education is almost always the best option to try to get a better job, but it’s no guarantee either; so many cannot find decent work now. And some hard-working and motivated students will feel they just can’t take any more on, and will drop out. It’s not fair and not right, but there is little in life that is. You just have to deal the best you can in the times you are living.

I understand how frustrated and angry the California students must be, and how they don’t just want to suck it up without a fight and without a voice. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but it’s up to each one of them to figure out what they are going to do now and to maybe step back a bit and get some perspective. Hell, I would just be thrilled as a student now to not have to worry about being sent to the Middle East against my will, that no one is bombing the Commons, and that the police are firing beanbags rather than bullets.