Opinion: Tuition tussle: Higher costs hurt diversity
By Marty Block
December 20, 2014 5 p.m.
Rising college costs have become a major concern for many, so the recent five-year, 28 percent tuition hike approved by the University of California Board of Regents was not well-received by students across the state. UC President Janet Napolitano and supporters of her plan say the tuition increases are necessary and blame state budget cuts in recent years. Gov. Jerry Brown and others who oppose the plan say the UC system needs to change the way it operates so it can continue to provide quality, affordable education. Below, a state legislator offers his views. For the views of the chair of the UC Academic Senate, please go here.
The best thing to be said about the University of California’s recent proposal to hike tuition by a cumulative 28 percent over five years is that it kicked-started a conversation about funding for higher education. If that was the aim of the UC regents and UC President Janet Napolitano, then they performed a service.
But California leaders are united in their fierce opposition to the proposed UC tuition hikes. Between 2004 and 2013, tuition more than doubled at both UC and California State University campuses because students were used as an ATM to fill budget cuts during the economic downturn. Now it’s time for our state universities to find efficiencies, and for the state to provide greater support to ensure more access and greater affordability to California’s students.
Higher tuition costs will push a diploma out of reach for many and limit economic and ethnic diversity. Students who can borrow enough to meet the increased fees will graduate with debt that will take years to repay, postponing buying a house, starting a business, or contributing to the economy in other ways.
That is why Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and I recently introduced Senate Bill 15. SB 15 will eliminate the proposed UC tuition increases. But SB 15 does much more. It reinvests in all of California’s public and private nonprofit higher education institutions. It also begins the long-overdue process of addressing a major structural inefficiency leading to the higher costs of earning an undergraduate degree — delays to degree completion. Recent research by the Campaign for College Opportunity revealed that every additional year of college after four years increases the total cost of education by $26,000 — covering fees, books and living expenses.
Students spending extra years on campus take up precious enrollment slots that could be filled by new students and their delayed graduation keeps them out of the workforce where they could be contributing to California’s economy. Recent studies show that California will need 1 million more adults with four-year degrees by 2025 to keep our workforce competitive and guarantee that we remain a global economic force.
So how do we fix this problem?
By completing 15 units each semester, every year for four years, students will graduate on time. To motivate students to do this, SB 15 establishes a Completion Incentive Grant for CSU students: $4,500 over three years for consistently taking a 15-unit course load and graduating in a timely fashion.
Add this to the $52,000 saved by students who finish in four years rather than six and then have the opportunity to earn tens of thousands of dollars afforded by earlier entry into the workforce, and you have a very compelling incentive to graduate in four years. And that benefits California’s students, employers and taxpayers.
To facilitate four-year graduation, SB 15 tackles the two primary obstacles to timely completion: student inability to get into key courses needed to graduate and student confusion regarding what course progression will most efficiently lead to graduation. SB 15 provides $75 million each to the UC and CSU systems to increase course offerings and expand academic advising. We would pay for SB 15 by increasing tuition on out-of-state and international students and using some dollars originally set aside by the Middle Class Scholarship Act, which provides UC or CSU scholarships to undergraduate students with family incomes up to $150,000.
SB 15 uses some of those dollars to hire faculty to teach “bottleneck” courses and academic advisers to direct students to the quickest path to graduation. This investment will enable all students to complete their college education more quickly and efficiently and begin their careers sooner. This reduction in time to degree and accelerated entry into the workforce will provide tremendous benefit to students and their families.
SB 15 also provides funding to increase enrollment by 5,000 slots at the UC and 10,500 at the CSU, and to enable these additional students to graduate in four years. Funding additional slots helps ensure that the UC and the CSU can accommodate more community college student transfers. Community college students will also benefit from the completion grant and increased Cal Grant awards. Additionally, SB 15 repeals the 11 percent cut to Cal Grants for undergraduates at private, nonprofit schools and finances an additional 7,500 Cal Grant Competitive Awards for returning and nontraditional students.
Over the coming months, SB 15 and other proposals will be studied, debated and amended. The final product won’t look exactly like the initial proposal. But in the end SB 15 will change the pace, and the face, of higher education. SB 15 will save billions, 15 units at a time and facilitate completion of a four-year degree … in just four years.
Block represents the 39th State Senate District which includes the cities and communities of San Diego, Del Mar, Solana Beach and Coronado.