Tuition Increases Frozen, but UC Regents Still Wage Long-Term War

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Nothing sets a fire in the hearts of cash-strapped college students quite like the words “tuition increase.” Especially throughout the 2014-15 academic year, University of California campuses, statewide, have become battlegrounds between frustrated students and penny-pinching UC Board of Regents executives over one question: whose responsibility is it to foot the bill for higher public education?

According to UC President Janet Napolitano, if the struggle comes down to state versus students, students lose. In late 2014, Napolitano proposed an outrageous plan for  tuition hikes spread over the next five years –– as much as a 28% overall increase in tuition for in-state students by 2020.

Just last week, after months of backlash, controversy and student-led protests on campuses from UC Santa Cruz to our very own UC Irvine, Governor Jerry Brown announced that the planned tuition hike would be stopped –– but only for two more years. In 2017, the floodgates will open again, and it will likely take a lot more than a few protests to stop it that time around.

Napolitano’s proposed tuition increase hasn’t been eliminated, it has only been postponed. This gives Californians a little less than two years to work out a plan for sustainable public university funding –– a plan which doesn’t force already struggling college students to stare down the barrel of a $100,000 diploma.

In the long run, massive tuition hikes aren’t going to keep the UC system afloat. On the contrary, if public university tuition starts climbing much higher than $20,000 per year –– on top of housing, food, transportation, fees and other expenses –– it’s going to become absolutely unrealistic to get a degree at a four-year California public university.

Would-be college students will take a serious look at more viable options. Why pay six figures for a public school education when you can pay just a few thousand at community college or aim for only slightly more costly private schools which can offer more financial aid as a result of huge endowment packages? Or, better yet, why not just forego college entirely, join the workforce and start making money right away?

Of course, we know the benefits of a public school education, especially at any University of California campus. We know that college pays off in the long run, and we know that a UC degree, while expensive and hard-earned, is worth it. However, with every tuition hike, the benefits of a UC education start to pale in comparison to its price tag. As wonderful as the UC system is, if it gets too expensive, it simply won’t be worth the cost. Enrollment will plummet –– and then, the UC system will really be in trouble.

Janet Napolitano stresses that UC tuition hikes are inevitable. If anything, tuition reductions are inevitable if we want to keep enrollment at a sustainable level. Especially when it comes to out-of-state enrollment, which is already in jeopardy. The two-year hiatus on the tuition hike does not extend to out-of-state applicants, who are already paying over $24,000 in tuition than their Californian counterparts. Out-of-state enrollment will decline rapidly –– why should UC Davis cost nearly as much to an out-of-state student as Stanford? An Ivy League price for a public school education just doesn’t make sense, especially since the vast majority of public school students are already at or below the middle-class line.

The UC system needs to consider other avenues for redirecting funds to higher education if it wants to maintain the status quo. Where exactly to divert funds from is still a point of contention, but solutions are definitely in the works.

Senator Bernie Sanders has made headlines recently, not only regarding his bid for the Presidency, but also for his plan to make public school tuition across the United States completely free for students’ first two years. The plan has been criticized for being overly idealistic, but Sanders’ heart is in the right place. Making higher education affordable for everyone willing to seriously pursue it, is a massive step in the right direction for education and income inequality in America. Sanders hasn’t specified where the necessary $70 billion in government funding would be pulled from, but cuts to defense spending have been proposed as a possible source of revenue.

Wherever the revenue comes from, it shouldn’t –– and can’t –– all be pulled out of the threadbare pockets of UC students. It’s unfair to discourage bright and motivated people from pursuing higher education because they know that they can’t realistically handle the debt upon graduation. The UC system will fail if it doesn’t take some of the cost burden off of its students soon.

The price of a UC diploma is ridiculous as it is, and raising the already outrageous cost is the farthest thing from a solution. The postponement of Napolitano’s tuition hike is a good start –– now let’s make it last.

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