05/01/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The College Insider: Admissions Freak-Out Countdown #13: Deja Vu All Over Again, As UCs Protest

Pete Seeger recorded "Turn, Turn, Turn (To Everything There is a Season)," his musical rendition of a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes, in 1962. Judy Collins covered it in 1963 and The Byrds re-covered it in 1965, providing a nice set of musical brackets for one of the Sixties' non-musical greatest hits -- Mario Savio's free speech call to arms on the UC Berkeley campus in 1964.

And you, you apprehensive parent of a high-school senior, you're wondering: Why is she telling me this when all I want to do is fret, snack mindlessly, wake up in the middle of the night, and stalk the guy or gal who delivers the mail?

Because the first notifications you're going to get are from state universities, that's why, and because California is turn, turn, turning toward a new season of protests, one that could be the biggest thing since Savio's day.

Last week, what was supposed to be a party turned into the full monty, protest-wise: flaming dumpsters, cops, the occupation of a building, and references to outside agitators, because after all, what do University of California students facing a 30-plus percent tuition hike have to complain about unless someone stirs them up?

Trouble has been brewing and occasionally boiling over since last fall, when the state of California announced the system-wide hikes for next year in the face of an $813 million deficit, along with cuts in curriculum and services. Kind of a simultaneous binge and purge approach to budget management, which we know isn't healthy.

Pundits speculated on the future, in particular, of UC Berkeley, the jewel in the crown, the first campus in the UC chain, lovingly and definitively referred to as Cal, as though it were still the one and only.

Berkeley, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and a handful of other state schools have always been the smart choice for people who didn't mind going to a school the size of a small city, people who loved the idea (and who wouldn't) that for half the price (or less) of a private institution you got the same education or better.

But now California intends to change the equation - and protestors, perhaps recognizing that acceptance season is a nicely ironic time to get people focused on higher education, have scheduled a march on Sacramento for March 4. The Day of Action in Defense of Public Education takes place just as the UC system starts to let people know who's lucky enough to qualify for a downsized UC education.

Angry yet? It gets worse. The seemingly recession-proof cost of a private undergraduate education has sent more people scurrying for the relatively safe haven of a state-supported education, which is still a relative bargain, even with the rate hikes. That means more competition for the slimmed-down spots - which sends more students, in turn, toward community colleges that are scrambling to accommodate the increase in applicants.

Those of us whose children are already in college have begun to hear the nasty next-step mantra, which is, A bachelor's degree doesn't mean a thing in this economy. Great. Seems like just the right time for California to make it harder for its students to get any degree at all.

Perhaps that is why the great wave of indignant undergraduates will be joined on the 4th by an unusual auxiliary group: Several members of the UC Board of Regents, as well as the president of the UC system, have announced that they'll attend the march.

Note to politicians, as you debate which classes to euthanize: Consider keeping the basic English composition classes, and make sure there's a grammar component. CNN ran its affiliate KCRA's report on the CNN web site, and the following sentence leapt out at me.

"CNN affiliate KCRA captured footage of students outside the building shouting, 'Who's university? Our university!'"

Actually, the correct spelling would be "Whose university." "Who's" is a contraction; that little apostrophe takes the place of a missing letter "I". The sentence, as it stands, means "Who is university?".

We is university, seems to be the answer this time, from both the students and the Regents. Let's see if that unusual alliance will inspire legislators to find a different way to plug an $813 million hole.

Next Up: Admissions Freak-Out Countdown #14: Spin-doctoring your child's fate; the good-news speech and the bad-news speech.

Karen Stabiner's novel about college admissions, Getting In, will be published on March 16. Visit or write to