On Wednesday, the UC Board of Regents rightfully endorsed Proposition 30, Gov. Jerry Brown’s initiative that would raise taxes on the wealthiest Californians to provide funds for public safety and education. If voters approve Prop. 30 in November, the UC system will receive $125 million, thereby halting the need for a likely 20.3 percent undergraduate tuition increase.
That did not mean there were no tuition increases at the meeting. And so it comes with some level of dejection that we begrudgingly endorse the regents’ decision to increase fees on 50 of 57 professional degree programs.
When it comes to UC tuition, the frame of discussion has shifted — no longer is the question if there will be increases but how much and when and to whom. In this case, the debate is which UC students the fee hikes will be shoved upon. Admittedly, as a student newspaper comprised mostly of undergraduates, we are not without bias. But increasing tuition for UC professional programs is a better alternative than continuing to raise fees on undergraduates.
For starters, undergraduate tuition has ballooned by around 71 percent since 2008. That’s a $5,066 increase. Over that same period of time, tuition at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has grown by 43 percent while fees at the UCSF School of Nursing have risen 53 percent.
Certainly tuition increases are not ideal. But prioritizing undergraduate education does the greatest good for the most. The professional fee hike affects only about 14,000 of the 234,000 students in the UC system.
Once scarce and sparse, an undergraduate degree has become more standard, the minimum educational achievement level for many jobs. The regents’ decision will thus cease to cut off access to countless people for something that is becoming more of a necessity in the job market. Professional programs will become less affordable as a result of the hike, but those students still need that undergraduate degree to get into said programs. If it must come down to a choice, we favor making undergraduate education more affordable than graduate education.
It makes sense to pay a little bit more to come out of school with a masters rather than a bachelor’s degree. With a degree from a professional program, one has the opportunity to pay back the cost faster, making the degree more valuable for its more immediate return. Perhaps fee hikes on these graduate students will increase their motivation for finding a job, opting for work experience after undergraduate completion rather than simply going to graduate school for lack of another option.
Still, this tuition surge, like any fee increase, is not without its own set of concerns and problems. A justification is that students are going to professional programs to get jobs, but it is not as if the job market is booming in today’s economy. Professional programs in the UC system are already expensive. Take nursing school for instance. With a 35 percent tuition hike — the largest increase of the 50 — for the four UC nursing programs, costs will spiral to more than $20,000 a year.
The 35 percent jump for nursing school may be the biggest increase, but that’s not to say the others are small. The 10 and 12 percent hikes for the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and UC Berkeley School of Optometry, respectively, are still sizable. The 23 percent tuition increase for UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business full-time MBA program will bring its cost to more than $54,000 per year.
As Student Regent Jonathan Stein pointed out at the meeting, the fee hike would probably give graduates less of an incentive to go into public service and government jobs, instead likely deciding on higher-wage work to pay back debt. And that’s a shame, since public service jobs are what we need right now. The brilliant minds of UC graduates should not be going to big corporations but rather be put to work to fix these problems. We are shooting ourselves in the foot.
That’s nothing to say of the accessibility of UC professional degree programs. Elite students might opt for better-priced schools, denying the UC system the brains of some of the brightest students.
Then again, there don’t seem to be a whole lot of other options. The UC system must strike a balance between increases and cuts. We don’t want the UC’s prestige — or more importantly its level of education — to suffer. We must continue to attract the best professors, but they come at a price. Not to mention the notoriety graduate schools often bring to their undergraduate institutions. There is a point at which the degree becomes less valuable due to significant cuts. We don’t want to come close to reaching that juncture.
It is a lose-lose scenario, a vicious cycle of hikes and cuts. So, yes, we are glad this latest round of tuition increases are focused on professional graduate students instead of undergraduates. Fee hikes help stop the UC’s bleeding. Band-aids are an important tool, necessary even, but they don’t heal injuries or stop infections. We’re still looking for the UC’s cure. Until then, tuition cost will continue to swell.