High cost of higher education
The Index-Tribune, as you may have noticed, has begun committing a fair amount of ink, printed space and online gigabytes to the subject of education. A primary objective for this effort has been to provide better information to students, parents, teachers, administrators and the general public, about how to move students successfully through the public school system to the point at which they can either graduate with a useful degree from college or graduate school, or matriculate into technical or vocational training curricula that prepare them for the 21st century job market.
Our efforts on that front will expand and grow with the school year, but as they do so we feel compelled to comment on a troubling reality of which most parents of college-bound students are already painfully aware: the cost of a college education.
According to the California Post Secondary Education Commission, between 1990 and 2009, the cost for a UC student living on campus rose by 70 percent, while the cost for a CSU student living at home rose by 80 percent. In the same period, California median family income grew by only 16 percent.
Cost-of-college inflation exploded in the past decade. The cost of a year in UC system rose from $15,000 in 2000 to $27,000 in 2009. It's even higher now. In the last decade, while the rate of inflation was 25 percent, UC room and board costs rose 68 percent, book costs rose 44 percent and tuition fees rose 135 percent.
During the heyday of higher education in California, the state's general fund provided $12 for each dollar students paid in fees. By 2009, the rate had fallen to $1.40 from the state for every dollar paid by a student (or his or her parents). In 2000, the annual on-campus cost for a UC student was 25 percent of the state's median family income; by 2009 the cost had risen to 39 percent of median family income. Nationally, the cost of a private, four-year university education cost 78 percent of median family income, and it has risen significantly since then.
While there is still a fair amount of financial aid for academically-qualified students from low-income families, middle-class students are increasingly squeezed out of the picture. All across the educational landscape, higher education costs are spiraling out of control and out of reach, which is one reason online learning has taken off. A four-year education degree from the largely online University of Phoenix, for example, costs less than $53,000, including all fees and materials.
Clearly higher education is now navigating a slender financial tightrope over a yawning abyss. For public institutions like the UC and CSU systems, there are really only two solutions: the cost of providing a quality college education has got to come down, and the public support for that education has got to go up.
While a minority of state legislators persist in their blind devotion to blocking any increase in taxes (and while wealthy Americans are now enjoying the lowest tax rates since 1950) their refusal to invest in education will come back to haunt us in the years and decades ahead. It's a sobering thought.