Who pays for college?

University of California students protesting a 32 percent fee hike are pampered brats, writes Ruben Navarrette Jr.

UC-Irvine freshman Suzanne Kordi told the regents in public comment: “This isn’t Wall Street, and the UC students are not here to bail you out. We’re here to get an education. If these fee increases are approved, I will not be able to afford my education.” And Victor Sanchez, president of the UC Student Association, chimed in: “These proposals are egregious, to say the very least. The dreams of so many are being shattered as we speak.”

These kids obviously can’t take a punch. Life is full of disappointments, challenges and setbacks. They had better get used to it.

Michael O’Hare tells students that college isn’t free. Someone — taxpayers or parents or loan-burdened graduate — is going to pay.

One of the less useful tropes of the current California uproar is that “Education should be free!” . . . It is either a silly plea that facts be turned upside down by magic, like “Brussels sprouts should taste good!” or a proposition that it should be offered at a price of zero. Carry all the signs you wish, but education consumes real economic resources, hence has a real cost no matter what its price. So we’re talking about who should pay for whose, and how.

If we were starting from scratch, we might ask students to pay the full cost of their education, “discounted by some estimate of the external benefits the educated provide to all of us,” O’Hare writes. However, the current generation of California adults “receives a big endowment of personal, social, and physical capital” from  previous generations; some of that is supposed to be passed on to the next generation. It’s not.

. . . what’s going on in California now is a vast looting of a trust fund, a violation of fiduciary and parental responsibility.

By abruptly raising tuition, California broke a social contract, writes Megan McArdle.  Many students and parents “planned their lives around a reasonable expectation of what in-state tuition would be.” Now they face a higher bill with less hope that graduates will be able to get jobs that will enable them to pay off their student loans.

Update: John Fensterwald, father of a non-protesting UC student and my former colleague, thinks the university’s 20 percent budget cuts are worse than the tuition hike. He suggests weekend teach-ins to inform students of how their elders have screwed up the state budget.

They’d learn that their parents elected legislators and governors who let state prisons grow exponentially, at the expense of colleges. They’d learn about another intergenerational gift that will saddle them soon as taxpayers: dangerous levels of state debt and pension liabilities.

His advice: Don’t trust anyone over 30.

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Comments

  1. California is also breaking a social contract by abruptly raising the amount of money it confiscates from its citizens.

  2. Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a jerk. UC has been raising its fees in painful ways for 15+ years now, and 32% in one year is really bad. I went to Cal, and my old roommate was here visiting last night. We have both given up on our hopes of sending our kids to Berkeley (or any UC school)–BYU is much cheaper and is looking like the more affordable choice these days.

    “Education should be free” is a silly slogan, but neither should a decent university education at a state school cost more than can reasonably be afforded by almost anyone in the state.

  3. It seems disingenuous — at best — to prepare all students ONLY for a college education and create a job market that demands a college education and then price all but a few out of that college education.

    Something needs to be revised.

  4. I’d also like to point out that UC students, by and large, come from poor-to-middle class families. The rich kids go to Stanford and USC and such–sure, there are wealthy students at UC schools, but for the most part these are kids who have worked at jobs to save money, who apply for financial aid, who need grants to afford college, who worry about their parents and their younger siblings’ futures.

    They’re not whining because they wanted to spend their extra change on trips to Cancun; they’re scared that they won’t be able to afford college at all. And when you’ve spent your whole life aiming at college and you know that there’s not a lot of hope without it, that is terrifying. So we’re requiring college on the one hand and taking it away with the other.

  5. OK, last one: I love how Navarrette says that this generation of kids is the offspring of the “make-love-not-war” generation. Dude, that was MY generation in the early 90’s. MY parents were hippies. I am 36 now and that was a long time ago.

  6. Back in the day when Joanne was at Stanford, student protest was not for monetary self-interest.

    Don’t whine.

    Rebuild Bac Mai Hospital and then we’ll talk.

  7. “I’d also like to point out that UC students, by and large, come from poor-to-middle class families. The rich kids go to Stanford and USC and such–sure, there are wealthy students at UC schools, but for the most part these are kids who have worked at jobs to save money, who apply for financial aid, who need grants to afford college, who worry about their parents and their younger siblings’ futures.”

    B.S. I personally know a LOT of affluent families who send their kids to UC schools. A recent study found that 19% of UC students came from families who made >$125k/yr. At UC Berkeley, it’s 48%.

    Why should middle-class CA taxpayers so heavily subsidize the college education of students from affluent families?

  8. Here’s some data about subsidization. At the moment it appears that people in CA earning more than $100,000 a year are paying about 70% of total state revenues. A little more than half of that comes from people earning more than $200,000 a year. I got that from here:

    http://californiabudgetbites.org/2009/06/17/shifting-the-tax-burden-to-low-and-middle-income-californians/

    As you can see from the name of the link the topic under consideration was shifting the tax burden to people with lower incomes.

  9. The state should NOT be paying for anyone’s college education. Each person should be repsonsible for his/her own education, whether its the family or the individual. Social contract, indeed. What we have here is called an entitlement. Stop whining and get to work.

    And, while I am on my soapbox, the reason that there are SO many students in college who do not belong there are the subsidies provided by the state. Stop subsidizing so many students for college and they will stop attending college. If you subsidize something, you get more of it. In any case, the reason that college costs so much is that it is (and has been for some time) subsidized by the state. Colleges have NO incentive to cut costs when they continue to receive outrageous subsidies from the government. My college just built a $35 million ice hockey arena. Why? Because it can.

    Oh, and Gahrie has it exactly right.

  10. Wait a second. If we’re all eventually going to have free healthcare, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that we have free education. Look at K-12. No tuition fees. Some wealth will have to be redistributed to reach the goal of social justice these students rightly expect in the wealthiest nation on earth. My daughter is in university in Lyon, France, and she pays no tuition. Kudos to the French. I hope we can come around to their level of compassion as soon as possible.

  11. “My daughter is in university in Lyon, France, and she pays no tuition. Kudos to the French. I hope we can come around to their level of compassion as soon as possible.”

    If the US/California would run at French post-secondary school attendance rates, we could certainly make UC education cheaper. And I’d be fine with this is we, as an example, refused admittance to Cal State for student’s who were going to need remedial (basically 10th/11th grade high school level) math or English classes. But as long as we insist on sending as many kids as we currently to to post-secondary education and as long as the California taxpayers are unwilling to increase their own taxes, I don’t see how to fund UC given the current budget w/o cutting other things the students at UC often feel are important (K-12 education, welfare, …).

    -Mark Roulo

  12. “Some wealth will have to be redistributed to reach the goal of social justice these students rightly expect in the wealthiest nation on earth.

    I don’t have a problem with subsidizing the college education of students from low-to-moderate income families. But I DO have a problem with subsidizing the education of students from affluent families. That’s a reverse Robin Hood situation- stealing from middle-class folks to give to the rich 🙁 How does that further social justice??????

  13. The argument that wealth should be redistributed (a nice way of saying stolen from some and given to others with no strings attached–if you don’t graduate, do you have to pay it back?) for the sake of equitable access to education may have merit. However, the new dorms at Arizona State have amenities that would make any country club envious. Why are oak cabinets, granite counter tops, and stainless steel appliances NECESSARY for education? Why is ground floor shopping with chic stores and state-of-the-art fitness centers NECESSARY for education? Arguing that it is morally OK to redistribute (steal) money for NECESSARY education expenses is one thing. Arguing that it is morally OK to redistribute (steal) money for granite counter tops is quite another.

  14. Rich, poor, whatever: a sudden 32% hike in fees is hard for most folks on a budget to cope with. I know if that had happened when I was in college, I’d have gone from eating rice and beans to eating just rice.

    While I don’t think “education should be free” (which it will never actually be; we need to keep the lights on in classroom buildings and profs need to eat – the “free” education comes at the expense of the taxpayers), still, 32% is pretty large.

    I also agree that it’s lousy we have convinced a generation that they “need” a college degree (and in a lot of cases, watered down K-12 education so that freshman year in college is essentially remedial high school for a lot of folks).

  15. Badabing: If we’re all eventually going to have free healthcare, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that we have free education.

    Doesn’t all having free healthcare make free education seem relatively less reasonable than it was before? After all, free healthcare means that either taxes rise or government spending on other things must go down relative to the situation of non-free healthcare (or deficits rise which merely delays the trade-off). Whatever your opinion about the reasonable level of taxes and government spending on non-healthcare, non-education, I don’t see how more government spending on healthcare reasonably implies *more* government spending on education.

    My daughter is in university in Lyon, France, and she pays no tuition. Kudos to the French.

    Given French public debt-GDP levels, I would not recommend it.

  16. I don’t recall anyone saying that health care was going to be free.

  17. Poor management and greedy politician led us to where we are, now students and parents have to fit the bill for a poorly run state. I’m not saying people should sue , but mismanagement is a costly failure.

  18. Richard Aubrey says:

    Robert Wright. I worked in the civil rights movement in MS in the Sixties. Know some of the folks still. Of them, a substantial proportion have not moved on. Two went to the state capital a couple of years ago when some raggeldy KKKers held a rally and symbolically swept off the steps. Best days forty years behind them.
    Seeing my point here?
    How about your demands that the murderers of Hue face justice? I’m sure you have some contemporary documentation of your outrage.
    Right?
    Then we’ll talk.

  19. It seems that the only fair way to deal with tuition increases is to ‘lock in’ tuition for students once they accept… in other words, tuition increases would only affect incoming freshmen, allowing returning students to continue to pay the same tuition.

  20. It doesn’t make sense for tuition to increase every year. I’ve never agreed with this. I think we’re over valuing college and a college education when you consider most colleges don’t help students find jobs. Higher tuition costs should mean assistance with finding jobs.

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