UC needs to stop raising tuition

The University of California system seeking tuition increases of 5 percent per year over the next several years is sad, but hardly surprising.

Continued and chronic underfunding of our state’s public universities has decimated a system of higher education that once set the standard for excellence. Although some funding is being restored—very slowly—the ability to pay for college at California’s public universities is rapidly escaping the grasp of all but the state’s wealthiest.

Let’s do the math: with a 5 percent annual increase, within a matter of just four years—the length we hope a student takes for a bachelor’s degree—tuition at most of the UC system will have climbed from $13,300 per year to $16,166. We doubt that the amount earned from summer jobs, part-time employment (or, for that matter, by parents) will increase at the same pace. Plus, there remains the cost of housing, books, fees and so on.

More than half of all California college graduates leave school with an average of more than $20,000 in debt, which makes these suggested tuition increases a recipe for disaster. Where once Californians could expect an extremely high quality and inexpensive education, we now have at least two generations of college graduates who are weighed down—if not economically disabled—by educational debt.

To increase this burden is to continue the foolhardy practice of mortgaging the future. Young people cannot reasonably be expected to delay marriage, parenthood, home ownership, entrepreneurial risk and even saving for retirement because of indenturing themselves to attain an education.

What’s more, recent reports indicate that some of the difficulties that universities are having in meeting their costs are related to underfunded pension obligations. While we would never suggest abandoning pension obligations, it can no longer be denied that at least two generations of Californians have engaged in a game of budgetary “kick the can,”and that can is now the size of a zeppelin.

The bottom line is that failure to increase our contributions to the education of our youth will result in the sort of long-term economic crisis from which we will find it difficult to recover. If students can’t afford school, they won’t contribute enough to the economy to support a retired older generation. That also means they won’t be able to save enough for their own retirements, thus forcing yet another generation to face this same crisis.

Many Californians will struggle to succeed in an economy that demands advanced credentialing for most entry-level positions. Others will find themselves with degrees, but so overwhelmed by debt that they will never be fully integrated into the economic system. And still others would default on those loans, which will result in additional costs for taxpayers.

One way or another, we will pay, whether it’s to support education, or because we haven’t done so. It is way past time to stop kicking that can down the road. Those of us who are educated and working must be willing to shoulder the responsibility for supporting the generation ahead of us and for educating the generation behind us. That’s the only way that we can have a sustainable economy and a humane society.

But one way or another, we will pay.