Students at campuses across the University of California system rioted last week after the Board of Regents voted to increase undergraduate tuition by 32% next year. You can see video of the fee hike protest at UCLA here.
I want to play devil’s advocate and suggest that tuition hikes at UCLA and the other UC campuses is a good thing.
Obviously, the UC schools are desperate for cash since the state put them on a starvation diet. If the UC schools don’t get more revenue, the class offerings will continue to dwindle, the hiring freeze and layoffs will not stop and the odds of graduating in four years will continue to drop. Being forced to attend college for five or six years is a much greater burden than paying higher fees.
But here’s perhaps the biggest reason why students at the UC schools should stop demonstrating. Higher tuition will make the system fairer. What is overlooked in this crisis is this: A huge chunk of the money raised by the fee hikes will be used to help lower- and middle-income students. Of the $505 million raised, $175 million will be used for increased financial aid.
It’s been rich students who have benefited from years of artificially low tuition at the University of California campuses. Taxpayers have subsidized the education of kids from La Jolla, Newport Beach and Menlo Park, who could afford to pay more. I wrote about this phenomenon in a college blog post entitled, Public University Bargains for Affluent Students:
The protests against annual rises at state institutions 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 UC 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 UC Berkeley, by the way, only covers about a quarter of the cost.
I think it’s more equitable to impose a higher tuition and use some of it to beef up financial aid than to help affluent students who have lots of educational choices. For rich students, UCLA and UC Berkeley are still a bargain.