While everyone likes to gripe about the cost of college, in the world of state flagship universities true bargains exist.
UCLA and the University of California, Berkeley, are two of them. The tuition at each of those schools is below $7,000. In comparison, Harvard’s tuition is more than $36,000.
The protests against annual rises at state institutions, however, has masked a financial inequity issue that many administrators in the higher ed world talk about among themselves.
Inexpensive flagships (at least in comparison to comparable private institutions) favor the rich. That’s because the tuition doesn’t reflect what it really costs to educate a student. And the subsidy that a millionaire’s kid from Beverly Hills gets to attend Berkeley is huge when you consider that his family would likely have had to pay tens of thousands of dollars more each year if he had gone to a private institution. The tuition that students pay at Berkeley, by the way, only covers about a quarter of the cost.
What some flagships are exploring is passing along a surcharge to wealthier families to bring desperately needed revenue into their institutions while beefing up their financial aid programs for middle-class and low-income students. What schools envision are along the lines of a ” high tuition, high financial aid” approach that private schools heavily depend on.
The University of Wisconsin is heading toward that approach. The flagships just unveiled the so-called Madison Initiative for Undergraduates, which would add an extra $1,000 to the tab of Wisconsin kids whose families make at least $80,000 and an extra $3,000 for non-residents.
Out here in California, …Robert Birgeneau, Berkeley’s chancellor, has also been making noise about wanting the freedom to raise his school’s tuition. The chancellor has proposed that all the University of California campuses have the ability to raise or lower tuition on the UC campuses by up to 25% and use the proceeds to boost financial aid and increase faculty pay .
Not surprisingly, Berkeley is finding it hard to maintain its world-class operations when the tuition is low and state support continues to shrink. Over the last 30 years or so, state funding per student has dropped by about 40%.
“If we were to increase fees, the fee income would have to be used exclusively for faculty salaries and to decrease the net cost for both poor and middle-class students,” Birgeneau said. “It would increase the public character of Berkeley by reducing the debt load of poor and middle-class students.”
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